SpaceX announces plans to fly 2 tourists around the Moon

NEW YORK • SpaceX, the ambitious rocket company, has said it plans to fly two private citizens on a mission around the Moon by late next year as part of a lunar journey that would last about a week.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk would not name the two individuals, whom he said approached the company and would pay for the flight.

He would not say how much it would cost.

If they manage the feat, the passengers would be the first humans to venture that far into space in more than 40 years.

Mr Musk made the announcement on Monday, saying two private individuals approached SpaceX to see if it would be willing to send them on a week-long cruise, which would fly past the surface of the Moon - but not land - and continue outward before gravity turned the spacecraft around and brought it back to Earth.

"This would do a long loop around the Moon," Mr Musk said.

The pair would spend about a week inside one of SpaceX's Dragon 2 capsules, launched on the company's Falcon Heavy rocket.

The spacecraft would be automated, but the travellers would undergo training for emergencies.

While the trip appears to be within the technical capabilities of SpaceX, industry observers wonder whether the company can pull it off as quickly as Mr Musk hopes.

"Dates are not SpaceX's strong suit," said Dr Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an association of aerospace industries.

The Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy are years behind schedule and have yet to fly.

"It strikes me as risky," she said.

Seven space tourists have paid tens of millions of dollars to fly on Russian Soyuz rockets to visit the International Space Station, which is about 320km above the Earth's surface.

NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'SpaceX announces plans to fly 2 tourists around the Moon'. Print Edition | Subscribe