Two space tourists are headed around the Moon and back in 2018, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who spoke to reporters in a highly anticipated press call on Monday. Amid Musk's characteristically flamboyant announcement came skepticism about whether this will actually happen, at least on such a tight timeline. His company has yet to launch any humans into space.
Two private individuals, who are staying anonymous for now, "have already paid a significant deposit to do a Moon mission," said a release on the rocket manufacturer's website. The pair will be flying in the Dragon 2 capsule on top of the beefed-up Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the next step in SpaceX's Falcon series. It's launching its first test flight this summer, and it if works, it will be the most powerful vehicle to get into orbit after NASA's Saturn V, which brought humans to the Moon, according to SpaceX.
The two people know each other, reporters were told. (No indication was given of whether they're male or female.) They will receive physical training, and will need to pass health and fitness tests to fly. It's unknown for now whether either has had any piloting or aircraft experience.
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Similar to the Falcon rockets, the Dragon 2 capsule is meant to be reusable in future missions.
As for cost, Musk told reporters on the call that the flight around the Moon will put them back similar to if they were planning to visit the International Space Station. Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté reportedly paid $35 million for his trip in 2009.
This voyage around the Moon, expected to last one week, is contingent on the Dragon 2 flights which come before it. If the two other Dragon 2 flights to the ISS that are planned for 2018—an initial unmanned, and then subsequent manned, mission—go off without a hitch, then the private mission will get the greenlight.
Although reactions have been generally positive, SpaceX's stated timeline has raised some eyebrows. Spaceflight is extraordinarily tricky, and other ambitious timelines have had to be pushed back.
Science consultant Mika McKinnon tweeted that she doesn't expect the 2018 launch date to be met. She says there is still a lot to do before this launch happens and "things take time."
The flight was made possible by the funding from NASA's Commercial Crew Program. According to the press release, NASA has encouraged private flights to offset the government's spaceflight costs and "more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions."
Whether it's going to happen in 2018 or not, space tourism is starting to really take off. If extremely rich people want to subsidize the start of the Space Age to say they've been around the Moon and back, I think I'm okay with that.
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