CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—SpaceX said this week it will fly two people to the moon next year—a feat not attempted since NASA's Apollo heyday close to half-a-century ago.
Tech billionaire Elon Musk, the company's founder and chief executive officer, announced the surprising news barely a week after launching his first rocket from NASA's legendary moon pad.
Two people who know one another approached the company about sending them on a week-long flight just beyond the moon, according to Musk.
He won't identify the pair or the price tag.
They've already paid a “significant" deposit and are "very serious” about it, he noted.
“Fly me to the moon . . . OK,” Musk said in a light-hearted tweet following the news conference.
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.
“They're certainly not naive, and we'll do everything we can to minimize that risk but it's not zero,” he stressed.
“But they're coming into this with their eyes open," said Musk, adding the pair will receive "extensive” training before the flight.
Musk said he does not have permission to release the passengers' names, and he was hesitant to even say if they were men, women, or even pilots.
He only would admit, “It's nobody from Hollywood.”
The paying passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond—perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 miles distance altogether.
It's about 240,000 miles to the moon alone, one way.
The mission would not involve a lunar landing.
“This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really excited about sending people into deep space again,” Musk said.
NASA will have first dibs on a similar mission if it so chooses, he added.
The space agency learned of his plan at the same time as reporters.