By Cody Laska,
Money and Investing Writer
As SpaceX and Tesla continue to defy their competition and root themselves deeper into American industry and culture alike, founder Elon Musk has made yet another earth shaking promise; or in this case moon shaking.
Cited from the Guardian, on a closed conference call with press on February 27th Musk announced plans for SpaceX’s first official manned flight to the International Space Station in addition to a crewed flight into deep space.
Launching from Cape Canaveral, the intended flight path is to circle past the moon and return to earth; the deepest into space that humans have ever travelled.
The Dragon spacecraft is designated for both operations and has been in use since its history-making launch as the first-ever commercial cargo delivery craft. In reference to the Dragon spacecraft during the press release, the SpaceX press office offered the following: “these missions will build upon its [Dragon’s] already long heritage, extending it to deep space operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars.”
No details have been released on who the crew members are but speculation abounds as the selected two have paid a full deposit on the mission; this significantly narrows the pool to the ultra-wealthy as the average cost of launch is $90 million.
With Musk holding this information close to his chest and choosing his words very carefully, it is likely that the identity of the crew will not be released until a few months before the launch.
Could the South-African founder be overplaying his hand with his launch timeline?
According to Business Insider, the mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for early 2018 whereas the lunar orbit mission is due for the second half of the year. In an interview with Casey Dreier, Director of Space Policy at the Planetary Society, a non-profit devoted to the advancement of space travel in research, Dreier stated that he finds it is “possible but unlikely SpaceX will make the 2018 launch date.” Dreier followed up his comment by saying “ Their current schedule has the first test launches to low-Earth orbit [in reference to the Falcon Heavy rocket] occurring in 2018, the same time they would be sending an even more complicated spacecraft on a far more ambitious and risky mission.”
The industry consensus, as confirmed later in Dreier’s interview as well as follow up interviews with Brendan Curry of the Space Foundation and Soon-Jo Chung of Cal Tech, that regardless of whether SpaceX can hold to their promised pace, we will see this mission at some time in the near future.
Ultimately, the only factors holding the missions back is a matter of testing the rockets and spacecraft.
Through a partnership with NASA, all astronaut equipment and training will be handled through their experts leaving SpaceX to handle the technology.
As a society, we could be on the verge of the next major industry: space tourism. Once confined to the pages of science fiction companies are beginning to do the impossible.
With testing in progress now, in the future your vacation may involve a bulky white suit instead of a beach towel. As Musk tweeted after the announcement: “Send me to the moon? Okay”.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 print edition.
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