Inspiration Mars, a private company founded by former space tourist Dennis Tito, hopes to send a manned craft to fly past Mars, launching as early as 2018.
January 2018 is a good time to launch such a mission. It coincides with the Solar minimum, the period when the Sun is less active and as a result radiation exposure should be lower. The alignment of the planets at that time also allows for this to be a "free return" mission, where even if something goes wrong, the trajectory will see the craft return to Earth using no fuel. This alignment also ensures the shortest possible travel time - a return trip in just 501 days.
However, this only gives us 5 years to ensure the technology we need is in place. To make this attainable, the mission has been designed to be as simple as possible; travel to Mars, fly past around 100 miles from the surface and return home to Earth. As far as possible, the plan is to use existing technologies, modified to purpose. No attempt will be made to enter the Martian atmosphere or land on the surface, and the scientific goals are minimised.
But who should man such a mission? Concerned about the problems of living in a confined space for over 500 days, Inspiration Mars want to send a mature couple, whose relationship has shown it can stand the test of time.
But before you volunteer your parents or grandparents, whoever signs up for this will essentially be acting as a Guinea pig. It's a longer manned mission than we've ever seen before, and we don't fully understand the risks, including exposure to radiation.
Privately funded missions such as Inspiration Mars are now really taking a hold on the way we interact with space. Already we've had supplies delivered to the International Space Station by a private company, and tickets are available for space tourism, assuming you can afford the "sky-high" price tag.
Although this isn't a scientific mission, there is a lot we can learn from it, and as the name suggests, they hope the next generation will be inspired to go further.