(CNET) – Earth’s first space tourist won’t be outdone by a few fancy NASA rovers with their cutesy names, sky cranes, and whatnot. So like the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, make the unprecedented 500-day round-trip journey to Mars to join ’em.

That’s the insanely ambitious plan that Dennis Tito, who was the first private space traveler a little less than 12 years ago, will announce in more detail next week.

A release from Tito’s newly formed Inspiration Mars Foundation teases “plans to take advantage of a unique window of opportunity to launch an historic journey to Mars and back in 501 days, starting in January 2018.”

You read correct, folks — this first manned mission to Mars looks to launch in less than five years from now. That seems to be a fairly audacious goal considering it took Elon Musk and SpaceX a decade to get to the International Space Station and NASA wasn’t able to get to the moon in less than five years, despite the fact that more than 4 percent of the total federal budget was going to the agency in the mid-1960s.

But you’ve gotta love a dreamer, especially one with such cool dreams. Tito and his organization envision no less than inspiring a new American Renaissance in science:

 This “Mission for America” will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration. It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and motivation.

Tito, a wealthy engineer and entrepreneur, spent $20 million for his ride to space in a Russian rocket back in 2001. No word on how much his jaunt to the Red Planet will cost just yet, but a press conference is planned for February 27 where the details will be revealed.

Also on hand for the press event will be two members of the controversial Biosphere 2 project who are now with Paragon Space Development Corporation, a company that builds life support and environmental control systems for extreme environments like space. Presumably they’ll be devising a craft that will keep Tito nice and comfy on his very long flight.

That’s an especially good thing considering Tito will be in his late seventies by the time the mission is scheduled to launch.


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