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“Life is risky,” said Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon whose astronaut wife died in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident. “Anything that’s worth it is worth putting it all at stake for.”

What may be most at stake is the crew members’ marriage. The couple will be selected within a year.

MacCallum and his wife, Jane Poynter, hope to be picked. They were a couple when they participated in Biosphere 2, a sort of giant terrarium that was supposed to replicate a mission on another planet. Poynter said it was such a fraught experience psychologically that some participants wouldn’t talk to each other for most of the two years.

But MacCallum said it brought him and Poynter closer together. He said the right couple going to Mars, if screened and counseled ahead of time, would come back with a stronger marriage.

Poynter said the husband and wife need to be even-tempered. Clark said they should be post-childbearing age because of exposure to radiation. Poynter is 50, MacCallum 48.

For the 30 years NASA has been flying men and women, it has avoided the question of sex in space. MacCallum said it will happen: “It’s a man and wife. Private time. Let your imagination run wild.”

In a statement, NASA spokesman David Steitz said the venture validates President Barack Obama’s decision to rely more on private sector ingenuity to explore space, and is “a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers.”

He said “NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities.”

Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, NASA’s former Mars mission chief, said the team’s technical paper outlining the flight is “long on inspiration, short on technical details. What is there is correct.”

Other outside experts praised the expertise of the team but worried about the lack of testing.

Former astronaut and current MIT aerospace engineering professor Jeff Hoffman said: “Since they don’t plan to land on Mars, it’s really a question of keeping people alive for 501 days in space, which is not an impossible task.”

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Online:

Inspiration Mars: http://www.inspirationmars.com

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Story Continues →