The mission is planned for late 2018, according to Musk. “This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years,” he said.
He declined to reveal the identities of the first two space tourists, but did say that they know each other and that “it’s nobody from Hollywood.”
“Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” he added.
Health and fitness tests, and initial training, is expected to begin later this year. Space tourism has been touted for a long time now, but nothing has been planned with this level of ambition. The mission will make a loop around the Moon, skim the lunar surface, but will not involve a landing on the moon. The cost of the tickets is likely to put off the majority of would-be space explorers, estimated to be similar to a trip to the International Space Station, which is around $35 million each.
The expected launch date could be considered particularly ambitious, given the spacecraft that will undertake the journey is yet to be tested. The Dragon 2 vehicle will be an upgrade on the current Dragon vehicle, which is used to carry cargo to the International Space Station. Dragon 2 will be launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is expected to fly for the first time in 2017.
The launch will take place from the same launch pad once used for the Apollo missions, which Space X now leases. The company’s first launch from that pad went smoothly in February.
Some may say Musk is being overambitious, but private companies are now taking the initiative where the likes of NASA have perhaps fallen behind in recent years: inspiring the public, and making them fall in love with the idea of space travel all over again. When the two lucky tourists reach the other side of the Moon, $35 million will surely feel like a bargain.