Two people have paid Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket firm an undisclosed amount to shoot them around the moon on a Falcon Heavy space rocket flight late in 2018.
Announced at a Monday briefing, the proposal to circle two unidentified customers around the moon follows past audacious moves by Musk, ranging from now standard landings of rocket stages to sending an unmanned "Red Dragon" crew vehicle to Mars.
The trip would send the two people aboard a Dragon space capsule around the moon for a week. The capsule was developed with NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station. The news comes as NASA contemplates a separate "EM-1" crewed moon trip for its SLS rocket in 2018.
"By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions," SpaceX said.
"I'm skeptical," space law expert Micheal Listner told BuzzFeed News, saying SpaceX faced an uphill battle in getting a FAA license to pull off the lunar mission next year, even if it does develop its Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon capsule on schedule.
Despite being a private mission, the launch would also need tracking support from NASA's Deep Space Network. "So, with all the hype about this being a private mission, it will require public resources," Listner said by email. "That NASA is considering the same thing with EM-1 is sure to create political pressure from Congress as well, who won’t take kindly to NASA being upstaged."
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of making humanity "interplanetary," and has spoken often of his hopes of colonizing Mars.
Dan Vergano is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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