Elon Musk’s groundbreaking SpaceX corporation is setting its sights on another space travel milestone, announcing that two private citizens have already paid the company deposits for a 2018 flight to loop around the moon. The two passengers will board a Dragon capsule, launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket, and take a 400,000 mile trip around the moon, before returning after a week in space. It would be the first time the US has sent a manned mission to the moon since the early 1970s.
Musk declined to identify the two passengers, but said the two “will travel faster and further into the solar system than any before them.”
He did say the two passengers already knew each other and noted “it’s nobody from Hollywood.”
“This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years,” Musk added. 1972 was the last time any humans traveled past low earth orbit, where some satellites orbit.
“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. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year.”
If everything proceeds on schedule, the trip will coincide with the 50th anniversary of American’s first ever orbit of the moon. The mission would be preceded by an unmanned version of the mission first, followed by the manned trip in the second quarter of 2018. The Falcon Heavy rocket, that will be used for the mission, will be test-flown this summer.
Musk said he would give priority to Nasa if they wanted to be the first to return to deep space, noting that planning the mission would have been impossible without their cooperation.
SpaceX will use the same Cape Canaveral, Florida launchpad that was used for the Apollo moon missions.
SpaceX added that the trip would likely be the first of several, with other people having expressed interest in making the trip, according to the company.
Some experts have expressed skepticism regarding the company’s “aggressive” timeline, with other SpaceX projects having faced delays in recent years. The Falcon Heavy rocket has yet to debut, and a new crew capable version of the Dragon capsule, with life support, will make its first flight to the International Space Station in spring of 2018.