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SpaceX announced on Wednesday that it has booked another lunar-circle mission for a wealthy thrill-seeker on its forthcoming Starship spacecraft.
Dennis Tito, a US millionaire who paid for his way to the International Space Station back in 2001, and his wife Akiko are planning a lunar expedition that will last about a week, according to SpaceX.
The mission will come only after SpaceX fulfills its commitment to launch billionaire payments processing CEO Jared Isaacman on the first commercial human spaceflight mission on Starship, a rocket and spacecraft system still under development from SpaceX facilities in south Texas . Starship is awaiting federal approval to conduct its first unmanned orbital test flight.
According to a press release, SpaceX will also conduct its first trip around the moon for billionaire fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa, a mission announced years ago before Tito’s trip.
Tito said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference that the only difference between his mission and Maezawa’s will be that he and his wife only bought individual seats on the mission, while Maezawa bought an entire flight for himself and a group of artists Has.
“The mission is now open to 10 others can register too,” said Tito. He added he doesn’t expect that flight to launch anytime soon, as he hopes SpaceX will launch “hundreds” of flights — including unmanned satellite launches — before he and his wife fly.
“It was a long-standing dream of mine that began in 1958 when I started studying aerospace,” Tito said. “If I can show that a man over 80 can achieve this, hopefully that will inspire people of all ages … that this is possible.”
Akiko Tito, who said she is an engineer, pilot and investor, added that she hopes this mission will raise awareness of the new opportunities it will bring space travel.
Dennis Tito earned a master’s degree in engineering in 1964 and then worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California before taking a job in the financial industry in 1972, according to his biography on the Britannica encyclopedia website. He declined Wednesday to share financial information about the upcoming Starship mission.
Aarti Matthews, SpaceX’s director of Starship Crew and Cargo Programs, said that booking SpaceX’s private missions on Starship is part of the company’s goal of providing “airline-like” access to space.
82-year-old Tito became the first person to pay for his way into space 21 years ago when he booked a ride with a company called Space Adventures. This company booked a handful of trips into space in the early 2000s by buying seats aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
Now commercial space companies, including SpaceX, are trying to tie in with those earliest days of space tourism by selling seats aboard newly designed US-made spacecraft.
However, it is not clear when the first crewed spacecraft mission will launch. This spacecraft is expected to be the sequel to the Crew Dragon capsule that SpaceX designed and built to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS. The company has brought private customers, including Isaacman, on board this vehicle.
But Starship is far bigger than anything SpaceX — or any other rocket developer — has ever built. It is expected to have more thrust than NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which powered the moon landings in the mid-20th century, and the space agency’s new moon rocket called the SLS, or Space Launch System. The company has long billed it the vehicle that could one day take humans to Mars for the first time, and NASA has reserved the vehicle to return astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade.
However, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said he will conduct Starship test launches and missions without a crew — using only satellites — before bringing humans on board.
Before that can happen, the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches, must give the company approval.
Reached via email Wednesday morning, an FAA spokesman said only that the agency “will not make a licensing decision until SpaceX has provided all outstanding information and the agency is able to fully analyze it.”