In a bold and surprising step, Elon Musk‘s private spaceflight company SpaceX announced Monday that it wants to fly people around the moon and bring them back to Earth in 2018.
According to Musk, two private citizens — whose identities aren’t public yet — want to pay SpaceX to send them from Earth, around the moon and bring them back home aboard a crewed Dragon spacecraft and Falcon Heavy rocket.
“We’ve been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the moon,” Musk said during a press call Monday. The flight profile would bring the space travelers down to “skim the surface of the moon” in a long loop around the lunar body, Musk said.
“They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission,” SpaceX said in a news release.
Fly me to the moon … Okhttps://t.co/6QT8m5SHwn
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 27, 2017
The entire mission would take about a week. The mission relies on two pieces of machinery that haven’t yet flown their proper maiden flights.
The crewed version of Dragon hasn’t flown people to space. Currently, the uncrewed version transports supplies to the International Space Station. The Falcon Heavy rocket hasn’t even performed a test flight, but both of these steps should be completed before the lunar mission blasts off.
Falcon Heavy should fly for the first time before the end of this year, and the crewed Dragon spacecraft will make an uncrewed mission to the International Space Station before the end of the year, with a crewed mission to follow about six months later.
The lunar mission is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018 and it should cost the private space explorers at least tens of millions of dollars.
Needless to say, planning a full-on crewed moon circumnavigation on this timetable is ambitious to say the least. Musk also made it clear that if NASA wants to send their own astronauts on this type of flight first, then SpaceX will honor that, moving the private mission back in favor of giving the space agency first priority.
The moon mission also fits in with a current debate NASA has been having with itself over whether to fly people back to the moon or press on straight to Mars.
It’s unclear whether SpaceX’s mission will change their plans, but it could make life interesting for the industry in the next few years as these missions take shape. This also shouldn’t be the only moonshot for SpaceX. Musk expects that eventually, the company should be able to launch one or two of these kinds of flights per year.
The newly announced flight is all part of SpaceX’s bid to push humans farther out into the solar system than ever before. Musk has even outlined his plan to create a city on Mars in the coming decades.
If this first lunar flight does fly on time, it will happen 50 years after the Apollo 8 mission that brought NASA astronauts around the moon ahead of the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.
The mission will also have another historical tie, since the Falcon Heavy will launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, which was the starting point for many of NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon.
Now, if SpaceX gets its way, the pad will get a new life as the start of many more.
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