Spaceflight

Moon shot! SpaceX announces plans to send 2 'private citizens' around moon

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Not since 1972 and the Apollo 17 mission has an astronaut been anywhere close to the moon. But that may be set to change next year. 

Two "private citizens" will get to take a trip around the moon in late 2018, SpaceX announced on Monday.

SpaceX has already been launching rockets to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and even has successfully landed a section of the rocket back on Earth on multiple occasions. Along with Boeing, the company is contracted by NASA to eventually lift astronauts up to the space station, which is due to happen in 2018, the company said.

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But this moon shot is a newly-announced endeavour.

“We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year,” the company announced in a blog item published on Monday. “They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. 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.”

The company said that health tests and training could start as soon as this year.

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A huge rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, will be used to blast the two people towards the moon. The Falcon Heavy hasn’t yet flown, but SpaceX says that when it does, it will pack two-thirds the thrust of a Saturn V moon rocket and offers more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.

“Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket,” the company said.

SpaceX hasn’t yet attempted to send people to the ISS. It plans to conduct an unmanned trial flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS this year, and then the first with astronauts on board in 2018. The company, founded by Elon Musk, said that it will launch its private moon mission after the missions to the ISS are already established.

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“Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth,” the company said, noting that the rocket will blast off from historic launch pad 39A. “This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.”

The company launched two rockets successfully in January and February of this year, with the most recent launch happening from the same historical launchpad, 39A, that NASA used during the Apollo program. But in September of last year, the company suffered a disastrous failure when one of its rockets exploded on the launch pad while being fueled. No one was hurt.