MIAMI (AFP/REUTERS) - SpaceX said Monday two private citizens have paid to be sent around the Moon late next year, in what would be the first manned US mission since the 1960s and '70s.
"We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year," said a statement by CEO Elon Musk.
"They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. 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."
The private launch company SpaceX plans to fly the two paying customers there using a spaceship under development for NASA astronauts and a heavy-lift rocket that has not yet flown.
The launch of the first-ever privately funded tourist flight beyond the International Space Station is tentatively targeted for late 2018, Musk told reporters on a conference call.
He declined to identify the customers or say how much they would pay to fly on the weeklong mission, except to say that it's "nobody from Hollywood". He also said the two prospective space tourists know each other.
"We would expect to do more than one mission of this nature," he added. "This should be incredibly exciting."