SpaceX's newly announced tourist mission to the moon could help humanity extend its footprint far beyond Earth, company representatives say.
That mission, which was revealed today (Oct. 12), will send wealthy entrepreneur Dennis Tito, his wife Akiko and 10 other people on a weeklong journey around the moon aboard SpaceX's huge Starship vehicle, which is still in development. Who those 10 other passengers will be is unknown; only the Titos have reserved seats at the moment.
This is an important detail, and a differentiating one: Each of the other two private crewed Starship missions on SpaceX's agenda was fully bought out by a billionaire. Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman is bankrolling the still-mysterious first Starship human flight as part of his Polaris program, and in 2018 Japanese e-commerce executive Yusaku Maezawa purchased a Starship mission called dearMoon, which will take him and a handful of other folks around Earth's nearest neighbor.
"Having a mission like this on our manifest expands what's possible," Aarti Matthews, director of Starship cargo and crew programs at SpaceX, said during a call with reporters today, referring to the Titos' coming flight.
"SpaceX's goal is to make humanity multiplanetary. And part of how you do that is thinking through, How do we make spaceflight really accessible to a group of people that haven't traditionally been able to take advantage of that opportunity?" she added. "This mission is a really notable step towards that, where, instead of buying a whole mission, you can now buy a single seat. That's already a pretty big cost reduction for an individual person."
The Titos see this potential as well, saying they're excited and honored to help usher in a new spaceflight era.
"Knowing our mission will be the second Starship commercial mission around the moon, and one of many that can contribute to the development of a deep space program, is exciting," Dennis Tito, who in 2001 became the first paying customer to visit the International Space Station, said during today's call.
"This program could prove to be one of the most important accomplishments in six million years of human history," he said of Starship.
SpaceX and the Titos have not disclosed how much the couple paid for their seats. A target launch date has not yet been announced, though Matthews said that the Titos' trip will launch after both the Polaris Starship mission and dearMoon, as well as a large number of uncrewed Starship flights to loft SpaceX Starlink satellites and other payloads.
Starship consists of a huge first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft called Starship. The vehicle remains in development, but a big milestone could come in the next month or so. SpaceX is gearing up for the program's first-ever orbital test flight, which will involve a Super Heavy prototype called Booster 7 and a Starship known as Ship 24.
On Tuesday (Oct. 11), SpaceX stacked the duo on the orbital launch mount at Starbase, the company's South Texas facility.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.