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SpaceX says it will fly 2 people to moon next year

Marcia Dunn
Associated Press

Cape Canaveral, Fla. — SpaceX said Monday it will fly two people to the moon next year, a feat not attempted since NASA’s Apollo heyday close to half a century ago.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk — the company’s founder and chief executive officer — announced the surprising news barely a week after launching his first rocket from NASA’s legendary moon pad.

Two people who know one another approached the company about sending them on a weeklong flight just beyond the moon, according to Musk. He won’t identify the pair or the price tag. They’ve already paid a “significant” deposit and are “very serious” about it, he noted.

“Fly me to the moon … Ok,” Musk said in a light-hearted tweet following the news conference.

Musk said SpaceX is on track to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in mid-2018. This moon mission would follow about six months later, by the end of the year under the current schedule, using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon heavy rocket launched from NASA’s former moon pad in Florida.

If all goes as planned, it could happen close to the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first manned flight to the moon, on Apollo 8.

The SpaceX moonshot is designed to be autonomous — unless something goes wrong, Musk said.

“They’re certainly not naive, and we’ll do everything we can to minimize that risk, but it’s not zero. But they’re coming into this with their eyes open,” said Musk, adding that the pair will receive “extensive” training before the flight.

The paying passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond, perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 miles distance altogether. It’s about 240,000 miles to the moon alone, one way.

The mission would not involve a lunar landing.

The California-based SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and safely return it to Earth in 2010.