SpaceX made a surprise announcement today that has many in the space and transportation communities shocked: they will be flying a commercial flight with two private passengers on a trip around the moon next year.
“We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. 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. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow,” said the statement released by SpaceX today. “Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.”
SpaceX also stressed that their relationship with NASA was key to making this private space flight possible. “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission.”
NASA praised SpaceX in their own statement released today. “NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher. We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station. For more than a decade, NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity’s future in space. NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft and systems to go beyond the moon and sustain deep space exploration.”
The manned mission around the moon will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. 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. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.
The upcoming Falcon Heavy launches, included the planned manned mission around the moon, will lift-off from historic Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX launched a rocket from this pad earlier in February; the Falcon 9 rocket delivered the Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station. Prior to the SpaceX launch, Launch Pad 39A was dormant since the end of the Space Shuttle missions. Launch Pad 39A was also the site for the Apollo / Saturn V rocket launches which brought man to the moon.