On Monday, 27 February 2017, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, announced the company will be flying two private citizens on a trip around the Moon in late 2018 – the first human venture back into deep space since the 1970s.
“Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” said Musk in a press release, published on the same day at SpaceX.com.
The names of the individuals in question, who had already made “a significant deposit” for the service, haven’t yet been announced, pending results of the extensive health and fitness check-ups to make sure they’re suitable for the mission.
Blasting off into space aboard one of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, the world’s first space tourists will be the only people on board, also marking the furthest human foray into deep space yet.
The entire trip will take around a week, skimming the surface of the moon, then venturing out into deep space and eventually looping back to Earth, which, according to preliminary calculations, should amount to roughly 650,000 kilometres in total.
Before the trip, SpaceX will fly the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) twice – first autonomously and later with a crew.
According to Musk, private trips are likely to be beneficial both in terms of finances and usable data. “By […] flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions.”
The spacecraft set to be used for the trip will be largely autonomous, meaning the passengers will only be trained for emergency situations, while the capsule itself will be slightly upgraded to better handle long-distance communications.
While the exact cost of the mission is – and may remain – confidential, Musk said it isn’t much larger than a crewed flight to the ISS, which breaks down to anywhere from $1.3 billion to $433 million per flight.
Provided everything goes well, the Moon trip could make a sizeable contribution to the company’s ultimate goal of building a self-sustaining civilization on Mars and turning humans into a multi-planetary species.