Jumbled Thoughts - 22 Feb 2013

Jumbled Thoughts covers all the little stuff which doesn't merit its own post. Anything goes!

Private citizens to Mars?  Someday, but probably not in 2018.  (Image credit: NASA)

Will a millionaire private citizen beat the world to Mars?  I doubt it, but I commend Dennis Tito for the effort.  Some of you may remember Tito as the first private citizen to venture into space.  In 2001, he paid a reported $20 million to the Russian space agency for an eight-day stay aboard the International Space Station.  This time, he's allegedly set his goals far higher: a 501 day trip to Mars and back.  Although the itinerary reportedly doesn't include plans to land on the red planet or even enter orbit, such a trip would be (by far!) the longest journey in human history.  With the mission supposedly relying on the SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and Dragon capsule, this isn't as far fetched as it seems.  The date, however, probably is.  The Falcon Heavy has yet to ever launch and the Dragon capsule is at least a year away from entering human testing, so Tito's 2018 launch date seems a bit optimistic   Are these really his plans?  We won't have to wait long to find out: a press conference is scheduled for next week.

It's amusing to watch the sudden increase in coverage for even small meteor impacts after last week's event in Russia.  Sightings in both California and Florida are a reminder that the Earth is under constant barrage from space rocks of all sizes.  I'm sure asteroid researchers are also appreciating the renewed coverage.  I've read about more asteroid defense plans this week than in the rest of my life combined.  We'll find out if any of them actually get built...

The Kepler space telescope has reportedly discovered the smallest planet ever, and it's about the size of our moon.  The success that Kepler is having is remarkable given the immense technical challenges it faces.  Congrats to the whole team for another exciting discovery.  I'll be covering this more in next week's Monthly News Roundup.