SpaceX's dramatic announcement last night (Sept. 17) that it has sold the ultimate luxury vacation package — a visit to the moon for half a dozen people aboard a rocket that has yet to be built — garnered plenty of attention.
If all goes according to plan, in 2023 Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and hand-selected companion artists will ride a Big Falcon Rocket to loop around the moon, spending about a week off the Earth.
But there's nothing new under the sun — or around the moon. Several other companies, as well as SpaceX itself, have previously offered glossy tourist brochures for travelers who want to make history. Here's a brief summary of their plans. [How SpaceX's 1st Passenger Flight Around the Moon Will Work]
First, there's an experienced competitor, Space Adventures, which has already borrowed Russian Soyuz capsules to carry half a dozen tourists to the International Space Station over the course of eight years. In 2011, the company announced that it intended to sell trips into lunar orbit as well by 2014, although those journeys have not yet materialized.
A few years later, another competitor expressed interest in stepping onto the lunar stage: Golden Spike, a lower-profile company founded in 2012 that aspired to land rovers, and eventually tourists, on the moon. But that company appears to have folded before any of its designs came to life, much less left Earth.
In 2014, the company was offering trips to the moon at a cost of between $500 million and $750 million, along with plans for robotic lunar rovers for scientific exploration. Golden Spike's website went silent in 2015, though, last year, Alan Stern, one of the company's founders, told Space.com that the firm was "still in business but awaiting a few external milestones to be achieved before moving forward on mission portfolio development."
Bigelow Aerospace has already tested multiple space station modules as part of the company's goal of establishing a commercial space habitat, including an inflatable module currently scheduled to remain attached to the International Space Station through 2020. The company has also expressed plenty of interest in reaching the moon, and last year, it unveiled designs for what such outposts could look like. As of late last year, Bigelow had its sights set on establishing a space station around the moon by 2023, the same year SpaceX is currently targeting for Maezawa's flight.
And, of course, this isn't SpaceX's first foray into selling vacations, either. Last year, the company announced that it had sold two rides around the moon aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, to be propelled by the Falcon Heavy vehicle.
In fact, during tonight's news conference, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested that Maezawa was indeed that previous customer but that he chose to upgrade his ride in order to invite more artists on his journey.
Maezawa is purchasing the flight as part of his #dearMoon project to reconnect humanity with the moon through creativity — so, needless to say, we can expect his postcards to be outstanding.