Tech billionaire Elon Musk – the company’s founder – announced the surprising news on Monday.
Two people who know one another approached the company about sending them on a week-long flight just beyond the moon, according to Musk. He won’t identify the pair or the price tag. They’ve already paid a “significant” deposit, he noted.
Musk said SpaceX is on track to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in mid-2018. This moon mission would follow about six months later, by the end of the year under the current schedule, using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon heavy rocket.
The moon mission is designed to be autonomous – unless something goes wrong, Musk said.
“I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here,” Musk told reporters in a telephone news conference, a day after teasing via Twitter that an announcement of some sort was forthcoming.
“They’re certainly not naive, and we’ll do everything we can to minimise that risk, but it’s not zero. But they’re coming into this with their eyes open,” said Musk, adding that the pair will receive “extensive” training before the flight.
Musk said he does not have permission to release the passengers’ names, and he was hesitant to even say if they were men, women or even pilots. He would only admit: “It’s nobody from Hollywood.”
The passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond, perhaps 480,000km or 640,000km distance altogether. The mission won’t involve a lunar landing, according to Musk.
It’s about 386,000km to the moon alone, one way.
NASA will have first dibs on a similar mission if it so chooses, Musk said. The space agency learned of his plan at the same time as reporters, and was busy preparing a statement following the announcement.
The crew Dragon capsule has not yet flown in space. Neither has a Falcon Heavy rocket, which is essentially a Falcon 9 rocket with two strap-on boosters, according to Musk. He said there will be ample time to test both the spacecraft and the rocket, before the moon mission.
Musk expects to have more moon-mission customers as time goes by.
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