While little more than a handful of space tourists have ever escaped earth’s pull, mankind’s final frontier feels closer than ever.
Three billionaires—Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson—are racing to make it happen. Musk’s SpaceX had hoped to send two tourists around the moon late this year, a plan that seemed delayed. Then the company announced Sept. 13 that it had signed its first passenger for a flight around the moon, and the traveler’s identity will be disclosed Sept. 17. When a twitter user asked Musk if it would be him, the CEO replied with a Japanese flag emoji.
One thing is clear: the rich will be the first to go. It has been 17 years since the first tourist visited the International Space Station, a $20 million round-trip ticket by American Dennis Tito, then 60, a onetime NASA engineer who left to agency to make his fortune in finance. Subsequent travelers paid some $30 million.
But if you can write the check, fitness shouldn’t be a hurdle for most. Research has shown that the mental strains, anxiety basically, are a bigger issue.
And the risks? About a 1 percent chance of not making it back, according to Federal Aviation Administration funded research, roughly akin to climbing Mount Everest. Here’s a look at who’s gone up, and what comes next.
The Soyuz TMA-16 launched from the Baikonur Cosm-odrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 30, 2009, carrying Expedition 21 Flight Engineer Jeffrey N. Williams, Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev and space tourist Guy Laliberté to the International Space Station. Laliberté became the 7th and final (to date) space tourist. NASA has declined to send civilians following the 1986 Challenger disaster, so the trips have been aboard Russian craft.
The Soyuz TMA-7 (Olson capsule) took entrepreneur and inventor Gregory Olsen to the International Space Station in 2005. He spent nine days in space, following hundreds of hours of training.
Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is funding rocket company Blue Origin to the tune of $1 billion a year through the sale of Amazon stock. “The price of admission to space is very high,” Bezos recently said a function in New York. “I’m in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system.” The company plans to sell tickets to tourists in 2019.
Sierra Nevada’s shuttle-like Dream Chaser is being developed to help resupply the ISS, but could also be used commercially to fly space tourists.
The new generation of reusable rockets and declining launch costs is making space flights more affordable. Pictured here are Blue Origin’s New Glenn, left, and the SpaceX Falcon 9. SpaceX first launched in May the Falcon 9 Block 5, which is the rocket slated to take astronauts to the International Space Station.
SpaceX said it has signed the first private moon traveler, with some changes to its original game plan.
The big reveal on who it is — and when the flight to the moon will be — will be announced Monday at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
It’s not the same mission SpaceX founder Elon Musk outlined last year. The original plan called for two paying passengers to fly around the moon this year, using a Falcon Heavy rocket and a Dragon crew capsule.
At the time, Musk said the pair approached SpaceX about sending them on a weeklong flight and paid a “significant” deposit for the trip.
The new strategy is to still fly around the moon, but using an even bigger SpaceX rocket still in development that has its own dedicated passenger ship. And now, it appears there will be only one person aboard.
Given that this new BFR rocket, as it’s dubbed, has yet to be built, the flight presumably is at least a few years off.
SpaceX put out the teaser via Twitter late Thursday, and Musk also tweeted out the news. Company representatives declined to offer additional details Friday.
Musk's ultimate goal is to colonize Mars. This lunar mission — a flyby, not a landing — represents “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space,” SpaceX said in a tweet.
On its website, SpaceX is touting the “first passenger on lunar BFR mission,” implying there will be more.
This could be humanity’s first lunar visit since 1972, depending on how NASA's latest moon plans shape up. Twenty-four NASA astronauts flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972, and only 12 of them strolled its dusty surface. Next July will mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
NASA is shooting for its own flyby of the moon, with a crew, around 2023. The space agency aims to build a gateway in the vicinity of the moon, complete with staff, during the 2020s. It’s envisioned as a base for exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond.