SpaceX Taking Passengers On Trip Around The Moon, Musk Says

SpaceX will be taking two paid passengers on a trip around the moon next year, said CEO Elon Musk.

Before that trip launches, SpaceX is waiting for a spaceship under development for NASA and a heavy-lift rocket that’s yet to be flown. This ship will carry two passengers on the lunar orbit for SpaceX.

The Tesla CEO said that the first privately funded tourist flight going beyond the orbit of the International Space Station will be taking place in late 2018 – if everything comes together.

Musk declined to identify the travelers, but did say that they’re “nobody from Hollywood.”

The two prospective travelers for the 2018 trip do know each other, and have put down a “substantial” deposit, he said. They’ll also need to undergo “extensive training before going on the mission.”

The SpaceX chief executive expects to find interest out there and customers who will pay for the trips.

“I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year,” he said, and it could make for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s revenue.

Virgin Galactic is planning on charging passengers $250,000 each to travel about 62 miles above Earth, high enough to experience microgravity – or floating in space. The spaceflight company, a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, is testing a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship for those willing to pay.

The SpaceX trip will go much farther – somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 miles from Earth past the moon. At that point, the Earth’s gravity would pull the ship back into the atmosphere for a parachute landing. This route would be similar to NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission beyond the moon and back.

NASA.com reported that the space flight venture drew praise from NASA, and a reminder that the agency expects SpaceX to meet its other obligations during that time.

Musk told media on the conference call that if NASA decides it wants to be first in line for a lunar mission, the space agency would take priority.

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SpaceX is coming back from a catastrophe last year. In September, a SpaceX ship exploded on the Cape Canaveral launch pad in Florida. Liquid oxygen had escaped and become trapped between the rocket’s two stages, causing one of the protective layers to buckle. Static ignited the trapped oxygen, setting off a chain of catastrophic explosions, SpaceX said. There were no injuries.

Test flights have launched safely since then. On February 19, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched, carrying the Dragon spacecraft. The ship was able to deliver nearly 5,500 lbs. of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, the company said.

The SpaceX flight around the moon would require licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Musk said spaceflights around the moon could provide practice for eventual human flights to Mars, which is the long-term goal of SpaceX.

Reuters reported that SpaceX has about $10 billion for projects in the works, which will come from about 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers. Backers include Alphabet’s Google.

Reuters


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