Most of us live our lives with our feet firmly planted on planet Earth. A select few become astronauts and experience a world of weightlessness and exploration. Even fewer can claim to have been real space tourists, civilians with enough cash and ambition to hitch a ride into orbit. That number is expected to increase by two in 2018 when SpaceX plans to launch a privately crewed mission around the moon.
Back to our lunar neighbor
The last time humans got to the moon was all the way back in 1972 during NASA’s Apollo 17 mission. The SpaceX astronauts won’t touch down on the moon, but they will fly around it in a Dragon spacecraft and then zoom on back to their home planet. SpaceX notes that two private individuals have already paid a “significant deposit” for the privilege of zipping around the moon. So far, the identities of these future space tourists are unknown.
A pioneering mission
SpaceX plans to launch a demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station later this year in order to test the technology. There will be no people on board for that test flight. The company expects to send a crew up in the spacecraft in the first half of 2018 as part of a contract to ferry NASA astronauts to the station. If the technology works out as expected, then SpaceX will move forward with plans to send its private space tourists around the moon late next year.
“This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and [farther] into the Solar System than any before them,” said SpaceX. The plans for the mission include sending the craft deeper into space once it passes the moon. It would then loop back to Earth. This is not just a big move for humans in space, but for space tourism as well.
Of course, human space travel also has a long history of setbacks and missed deadlines. It will be an impressive feat if SpaceX can actually launch its moon mission on time in 2018.