NEW YORK--The company responsible for brokering the first two space tourist missions to the International Space Station announced today plans for a mission that will send space tourists to the far side of the moon at the cost of $100 million per person.
Deep Space Exploration (DSE)-Alpha will be the first in a series of deep space missions being planned by the Arlington, VA-based Space Adventures. The mission could launch as early as 2008 and will be conducted in cooperation with the Russian Federal Space Agency (FSA) and the Russian space design bureau Energia.
The company is best known for sending space tourists--Dennis Tito in 2001 and Mark Shuttleworth in 2002--to the International Space Station (ISS) for $20 million.
If launched, the mission will mark the first time humans have orbited the moon in more than 30 years.
"It's been far too long," said Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson. "It's time to go back."
The mission will be flown by a Russian cosmonaut and will carry two commercial passengers. One of the prospective clients is Greg Olsen, the technology entrepreneur and millionaire is scheduled to become the world's third space tourists this October. Olsen booked his trip through Space Adventures.
Olsen, who also attended the press conference, said he was intrigued by the possibility of traveling to the moon.
"People have been asking me if I'm going to do this," Olsen said. "My answer is that I'm really interested but one flight at a time."
Living conditions on the spacecraft will be tight, as the interior will have a volume of approximately 350 cubic feet, about as large as the inside of a large SUV.
Like the company's previous orbital missions, DSE-alpha will rely upon the Soyuz TMA spacecraft, the latest incarnation of the Soyuz spacecrafts that have served as the workhorses of the Russian space program since the 1960s.
Unlike other Space Adventure missions, however, DSE-Alpha will also use an additional propulsion module known as the Block DM to provide the extra thrust required to reach the moon.
Anderson said that the five-fold price increase for the lunar mission over that of previous orbital mission is justified because it will require the launching of two spacecrafts instead of one.
Anderson also pointed out that seats on the orbital flights to the ISS were part of missions already bought and paid for by the Russian government.
Final mission details are still being worked out, but two scenarios are possible, Anderson said. One requires the crew to dock at the ISS for up to 14 days before launching off on an approximate six-day flight to the moon.
In the second scenario, the ISS will not be used and the crew will orbit the Earth for approximately three days before blasting off for the moon.
Anderson told SPACE.com that the decision of which scenario is ultimately used will depend on a variety of factors, including who will fly and the status of ISS when the first mission occurs.
Depending on which scenario is used, the Soyuz rendezvous with the Block DM will either occur at the ISS or in low earth orbit.
Anderson said that prior to the actual mission, a rigorous systems test will be conducted on both the Soyuz and Block DM would. Practice rendezvous' between the two spacecrafts, as well as a unmanned lunar flight, are also planned.
Anderson said his company has identified over 1000 individuals who have the financial resources to afford such a flight.
Also present at the news conference were FSA press secretary, Vyaheslav Davidenko, and Energia President, Nikolai Sevastyanov.
Sevastyanov told SPACE.com that the Russian government is currently developing several lunar and deep space programs, including production of a reusable spaceplane dubbed "Kliper," as well as plans for a lunar settlement.
Asked whether he expects Space Adventures to be involved in any of those plans, Sevastyanov said he had no objections.
"If they are interested and have the wherewithal, they are very welcome," he said.