SpaceX, the private space exploration and transport company started by billionaire PayPal founder Elon Musk, announced Thursday that it has signed a contract with a space tourist for its first trip around the moon and back, according to CNN. Musk had originally announced that the first space tourist to fly around the moon would get there with the help of the Falcon Heavy rocket designed by the company, but then changed the plan, stating that he did not recommend the Falcon Heavy for human flight certification because the upcoming Big Falcon Rocket (BFR, as it is commonly called) would be a better fit for the mission. The BFR was originally designed with the concept of Mars exploration in mind, but its design is flexible enough to accommodate more local trips, like around the moon or even from one point on earth to another, according to Space.com. The website also states that the final vehicle is expected to have 40 cabins and be capable of transporting 100 people from Earth to the moon and back.
The tweet sent out from the official SpaceX Twitter account showed a rendering of a space shuttle-like craft (the spaceship portion of the BFR assembly, also known as the BFS) with seven engines appearing to circumnavigate the moon.SpaceX didn't identify who the passenger is, saying that they will make that announcement on Monday, September 17. When someone asked Musk on Twitter if it was him, he merely responded with a cryptic image of a Japanese flag, perhaps hinting that the first passenger will be from that country. If so, Forbes has compiled data that shows there are 34 Japanese-born billionaires living in that country. It is assumed that anyone chartering a round-the-moon flight for a single person would have to be a billionaire.
Musk is known for announcing ambitious deadlines for projects and has said that he hopes to begin unmanned testing on the BFR by late 2019. Per CNN, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a more reasonable timeline during an April TED Talk, saying that the craft could launch within a decade. Ars Technica questions Musk's goal as well, calling it unrealistic and guessing that the rocket won't be ready for testing until 2023 at the earliest. They also point out that if it was somehow possible to get the system ready for human launch in December of 2022, that would be 50 years to the month from when we last sent humans to the moon and could become a rallying point of national pride for the United States.