SpaceX has revealed that it plans to send two people on a flight around the Moon in the second half of 2018, a bold mission in their upcoming human spaceflight program.
The company made the surprising announcement yesterday, saying the two people were private individuals who knew each other and had already paid a “significant deposit” for the Moon mission. The identity of the two people has not been revealed, but CEO Elon Musk noted in a teleconference that “it’s nobody from Hollywood”.
The two passengers will fly past the lunar surface, before swinging back around and returning to Earth. There will be no lunar landing, but the mission will be the first time since 1972 that humans have left Earth orbit and set eyes upon the Moon up close. The cost of the tickets was said to be similar to a trip to the ISS, which is about $35 million each.
“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,” SpaceX said in a statement.
The flight will take place aboard SpaceX’s upcoming Dragon 2 vehicle, an upgraded version of its current cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft that will be capable of taking humans to and from space. It will be launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket, expected to fly for the first time in the summer of this year, which will be the most powerful rocket in operation.
In the statement, SpaceX added that these two people would travel “faster and further into the Solar System than any before them,” suggesting the travel time to the Moon will be less than the three days needed for the Apollo missions. Currently, the record for the furthest humans from Earth was set by Apollo 13 in 1970, a distance of 400,171 km (248,655 miles).
The launch will take place from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral, the historic pad once used for the Apollo missions that SpaceX now has a lease to use. They launched from the pad for the first time earlier this month.
Training for the two people will begin this year, and provided they pass health and fitness tests they will be cleared to fly. Whether SpaceX will get approval for a lunar mission so soon from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who must give permission for American launches, remains to be seen.