WASHINGTON: SpaceX is planning to send two private citizens on a flight around the moon next year, a bold mission that will be the first to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit since the Apollo moon program, company founder Elon Musk said Monday.
The Hawthorne-based space company said in a statement that the two individuals have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission in its Dragon 2 spacecraft. Initial training, along with health and fitness tests, will occur later this year, SpaceX said.
“This will be a private mission to a paying customer,” said Chief Executive Elon Musk. He wouldn’t say who will make the flight, scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2018, or how much they’re paying. He would say only that the astronauts are “nobody from Hollywood.”
Musk said SpaceX is on track to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in mid-2018.
This moon mission would follow about six months later, by the end of the year under the current schedule, using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon heavy rocket launched from NASA’s former moon pad in Florida.
If all goes as planned, it could happen close to the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first manned flight to the moon, on Apollo 8.
The SpaceX moonshot is designed to be autonomous – unless something goes wrong, Musk said.
“I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here,” Musk told reporters in the telephone conference, a day after teasing via Twitter that an announcement of some sort was forthcoming.