Space X founder Elon Musk is to be believed, his company is going to send two wealthy passengers around the moon next year.
In a press conference held yesterday, Musk announced that in 2018 an unnamed duo will take a trip around the moon aboard Space X's existing – although likely modified – spacecraft. The pair, who have reportedly paid a "substantial deposit," will lift off from Earth aboard a Falcon heavy rocket, and will make the voyage to the moon in a Dragon 2 capsule. The flight will carry them around our satellite, where they will slingshot around the moon before returning home. The entire voyage is expected to take about a week and will follow a similar flight path as the Apollo missions from the late 1960's and early 70's. The Dragon capsule is also used to deliver cargo and crew to the International Space Station as well.
We'll likely learn the identities of these private citizens turned astronauts later this year, as Space X says it will conduct healthy and fitness evaluations of the two individuals, who will also undergo some training before being sent into space. If the mission continues to go ahead as planned, the team will no doubt become celebrities of a sort, as millions of people around the world follow their adventure. Considering that it has been more than 45 years since the last visit to the moon, many people alive today can't even remember what it was like for NASA to send crews out to place on a semi-regular basis.
This flight will also be a test bed for Space X, which has made it clear that it has ambitions of flying paying customers to Mars at some point. The company has been one of the pioneers of commercial space travel, but so far it has mostly focused on delivering satellites into orbit and resupplying the ISS. Its reusable Falcon rocket has been a marvel of modern technology however, particularly as budget cut-backs have forced NASA to delay its plans for manned missions and look for more affordable options for research in space.
If the mission does take place next year as planned, it will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from launching pad 39A. That's the same pad that the Apollo missions took off from as well. It should certainly be interesting to see this story develop further, and I know my interest is definitely piqued.
Also, where do I sign up?