SpaceX plans to launch 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.
Musk declined to say who had booked the flight, how much they were paying or even specify their gender. And he made it clear that if NASA wanted to send astronauts on such a trip, the space agency would have priority over any private citizens.
But the high-tech entrepreneur said he fully intends to launch the mission, and probably more like it, as part of his company’s long-range goal to send humans to Mars at some point in the future.
“We’ve been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the moon from some private individuals,” Musk said. “And they’re very serious about it. We plan to do that, probably in the fourth quarter of next year. That would be on a Dragon 2 spacecraft and a Falcon Heavy rocket, which is due to do its maiden launch this summer.”
SpaceX is developing the crewed Dragon 2 capsule under contract to NASA to fly agency astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing has a similar contract to develop a similar ferry ship to support space station operations and help end NASA’s reliance on Russia’s Soyuz.
The first unpiloted test flight of a Dragon 2 spacecraft is targeted for late this year with the first crewed launch in the first half of 2018. The Government Accountability Office has cast doubts on those target dates, but SpaceX managers insist they can keep the program on track.
For the moon mission, SpaceX would launch a Dragon 2 atop a heavy-lift Falcon 9 rocket made up of three core stages…