Long road trips can quickly turn into a nightmare for many couples, but what happens when partners are stuck with each other in a confined environment for six to eight months? That’s what Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum face as they hope to be the first couple from Earth to travel to Mars.
The duo, who founded a private space company called Paragon Space Development Corporation, have long pondered the best way to send two people to Mars, and while the much anticipated space mission is still awaiting funding (and permission to use NASA’s Orion transport), Jane and Taber have been pushing ahead with Mission Inspiration Mars.
The plan being funded by millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito would see the couple starting their trip to Mars by 2021. As members of an eight person team that spent two years working in Biosphere 2 – a three-acre materially closed ecological system which supported the life of the eight human inhabitants in Tucson, Arizona, they already have some experience with prolonged periods of isolation. That project was devised as part of a prototype space colony which contained miniature biomes that “mimicked Earth’s environments, including jungle, desert, marshland, savannah and an ocean all crammed into an area no larger than two and a half football fields.” The crew subsisted on a quarter-acre agricultural plot and went about their lives while medical doctors and ecologists observed from outside.
Unfortunately the experiment suffered a set back when, after 16 months, crew members began suffering from severe fatigue and sleep apnea. They discovered that the dome’s oxygen content had substantially dropped and had to refill the dome with oxygen, breaking the simulation of space-colony self-sufficiency. That setback has not put off the enterprising couple though.
“Some of the easier ones to get your head around are things like depression and mood swings—that’s kind of obvious,” said 59 year old Poynter, speaking to Wired. “Weird things are things like food stealing and hoarding.”
The couple have described the delusions that set in as being similar to those reported by early 20th century explorers who hallucinated while trekking for months through the featureless white expanse of Antarctica. Since the Biosphere experiment, MacCallum and Poynter have headed many projects, including World View, which would see sub-orbital balloons take tourists to the stratosphere. But they have always had their eyes set on Mars, and – “a fit middle-aged couple in their late 50s by 2021 that have experience living in isolation, they definitely meet the criteria for Inspiration Mars. Only time will reveal whether their wildest dreams will come true.