The Economist summarizes current plans for missions to Mars:
Six decades later, on February 27th, Dennis Tito, an American investment manager and space enthusiast who, in 2001, became the world’s first space tourist, unveiled his own plan. Inspiration Mars is a more modest affair. If all goes to plan, in January 2018 a single, small spaceship, carrying two crew members, will blast off for a 501-day trip to Mars and back. If it arrives safely, there are no plans to land. Instead, the idea is merely to fly around the planet and then head back to Earth. Unlike von Braun’s project, little government involvement will be necessary. Mr Tito hopes to pay for Inspiration Mars with a mix of his own money, donations from the public and the sale of media rights.
That is not to say that Mr Tito’s plan is timid. On the contrary: it is eye-wateringly (or, as one colleague puts it, “bowel-looseningly”) bold. Although endless studies have been done on how it might be possible to ferry humans to Mars, no one has ever attempted it. Mr Tito’s launch date is fixed, for it is designed to take advantage of a rare period of orbital proximity between Mars and Earth. If he misses his deadline, another opportunity will not present itself until 2031. That gives the team just under five years to design the mission, specify a spacecraft, find a rocket to launch it on, select a crew and carry out all the necessary checks and double-checks. And, without the financial muscle of a nation-state behind him, all this must be done on a budget.
And other non-profit foundations are interested, such as Mars One, a Dutch group that has been advertising for volunteers for a one-way trip, whose crew would end up stranded on Mars, although it has nevertheless received plenty of applicants.
All this interest implies that sending people to Mars is merely a matter of political will and a bit of ingenious engineering. It is not. It is extremely difficult and dangerous, a fact that Mr Tito mentioned repeatedly in his press conference.
So dangerous, in fact, that The Economist initially called the Mars One “a suicide mission.” They’ve since issued a correction in the piece.