International space company, SpaceX, has announced plans to launch two paying passengers on a tourist trip around the moon next year. The “space tourists” will be using a spaceship which is under development for NASA astronauts and a heavy-lift rocket which is yet to be flown.
Space Exploration Technologies Chief Executive Elon Musk, told reporters that the launch of the first privately funded tourist flight beyond the orbit of the International Space Station is tentatively targeted for late 2018.
Musk declined to identify the customers or say how much they would pay to fly on the weeklong mission, except to say that it is “nobody from Hollywood.”
He also said the two prospective space tourists, who know each other, have put down a “substantial” deposit and would undergo “extensive training before going on the mission.”
“I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year,” he said, estimating that space tourist fares charged by SpaceX could eventually contribute 10 to 20 percent of the company’s revenue.
Plans call for SpaceX’s two-person lunar venture to fly some 300,000 to 400,000 miles (480,000 to 640,000 km) from Earth past the moon before Earth’s gravity pulls the spacecraft back into the atmosphere for a parachute landing.
That trajectory would be similar to NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission beyond the moon and back.
Musk also said that if NASA decides it wants to be first in line for a lunar flyby mission, the U.S. space agency would take priority.
Musk said the privately funded moon expedition would take place after his California-based company begins flying crew to the International Space Station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
NASA is hoping those crew-ferrying flights begin by late 2018.
SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy rocket, which Musk wants to use for the lunar tourist mission, is scheduled to make a debut test flight later this year.
Musk, also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla, said missions around the moon could provide practice for eventual human flights to Mars, the long-term goal of SpaceX.
Except for some necessary communications upgrades, the Dragon spaceship currently in development for NASA astronauts is well suited for lunar flyby missions, Musk added.
The launch would require licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration.
SpaceX joins a growing list of companies developing commercial passenger spaceflight services.
Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, is testing a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship to carry paying customers about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, high enough to experience brief microgravity and see Earth’s curvature against the blackness of space.
Tickets to ride cost $250,000 each.
Not a cheap holiday, but certainly a memorable one.