Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, announced today that his ambitious and lofty space travel company is planning a trip around the moon next year. However, Musk isn’t sending NASA astronauts – or any astronauts – on the “mission,” rather he’s arranging a space tourism trip for two private customers. The unnamed SpaceX clients have, according to Elon Musk, already paid a “significant deposit” for their trip around the moon, and are reportedly incredibly serious about orbiting the Earth’s natural satellite next year.
Musk used the SpaceX website to make the official announcement about the proposed lunar trip, and the first private space tourists are expected to take their roughly week-long trip around the moon in the SpaceX Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft. Most funding for the development of the SpaceX passenger spacecraft has come from NASA and the organization’s Commercial Crew Program, and Musk thanked the agency for their support, adding that the impending new stage in space exploration and tourism “wouldn’t be possible” NASA support.
As The Verge reports, the private citizens reportedly approached Elon Musk and SpaceX in order to have their dream of traveling to the moon’s orbit – and beyond – facilitated. The initial plans for the moon visit are lofty indeed, with Musk describing a tour that would “skim” the lunar surface, then extend beyond the moon before looping back to return to Earth. In all, the entire trip is expected to cover and impressive 300,000 to 400,000 miles.
The current plan is to conduct the private moon mission near the end of 2018, however the two proposed participants (who are reportedly already acquainted with one another) will soon begin health and fitness tests to ensure their physical capability of enduring space travel. The pair who have chosen Elon Musk and SpaceX to fulfill their dreams for a trip to the moon will also require substantial specialized training between now and their launch date.
Despite the fact that Elon Musk and SpaceX only announced their plans for a private moon mission just today, some critics are already taking issue with the proposed endeavor. After all, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has yet to complete a successful launch; that test isn’t even scheduled until later this year. And SpaceX has faced some highly-publicized and even catastrophic rocket failures in the past. The Crew Dragon is slated to pair with the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX.
Additionally, Elon Musk has a history of putting the cart ahead of the horse to a certain degree, and has failed to meet his deadlines in the past. For example, Musk vowed in 2011 to have people in space within three years, something that never materialized.
Musk has long-touted private space trips and tourism as “significant drivers of revenue” tso help fund future advanced rocket and space travel technology. Neither Elon Musk nor SpaceX have divulged how much their first lunar visitors have shelled out (or will shell out) for their trip arund the moon. However, Musk described the cost as “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the ISS.
According to Elon, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been designed from the concept stage to be manned, and to transport humans to the moon and possibly beyond. However, the first tests of the spacecraft later this year will be unmanned.
In a real-world situation, the Crew Dragon is reportedly designed to be flown automatically, and that is how it is intended to function throughout the majority of the planned 2018 trip around the moon. However, Musk says that if needed the passengers will be able to intervene with the operation of the SpaceX craft, although Musk claims that “the success rate is quite high” for the as-yet untested vehicle.
Elon Musk further announced in his Monday statement that he believes that next year’s planned trip around the moon could be the first of many, possibly as many as one or two a year in the immediate future, which could generate up to 20 percent of SpaceX revenue once the project gets off the ground.
Despite his lofty plans and boasts of a high success rate, Elon Musk admits that space travel is inherently dangerous. What’s more, no government safety regulations exists for private space travel and tourism. The Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act in 2004, and it has been extended to 2023; the act allows for an unregulated “learning period” for private sector space exploration companies. According to the FAA, this may put the public at risk, and the agency has expressed interest in controlling and regulating private space travel when it expires.
“Next year is going to be the big year for carrying people. This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really exciting about sending people into deep space again.”
According to Musk and SpaceX, the space tourists paying for a trip around the moon are aware of and have accepted the risks of their proposed, historic flight.
“[These paying customers] are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here. We’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk but it’s not zero.”
Government officials from the Government Accountability Office have also recently reported that the SpaceX vehicles involved in the proposed 2018 trip around the moon may not receive their official certifications until 2019, which casts some doubt on Elon Musk’s ability to send two private citizens to the moon and back in 2018. For his part, Musk claims SpaceX will be up to the task in the time-frame proposed.
What are your thoughts regarding the plan to send private space tourists on a trip around the moon next year? Do you think Elon Musk and SpaceX can pull it off on the timeline they are promising, or is this going to be another instance of broken space travel promises?
[Featured Image by Refugio Ruiz/AP Images]