Monday, October 17, 2022

SpaceX Now Booking Second Lunar Flyby Tourist Trip

Relatively unnoticed in the news last week was that SpaceX has begun accepting bids for a second tourist flight around the moon in their Starship.  The company has long had a well-publicized plan to send a space tourist on a lunar orbital mission by 2023.  The tourist is Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who is planning to take a small crew of artists with him. That "by 2023" estimate is from 2018, so it seems a bit more iffy now as Starship still hasn't achieved orbit and I'd expect them to do a lot of testing before taking people on Starship at all, not to mention taking them on a never-before flown mission, but it still looks like it could happen long before Artemis/SLS will go to the moon. 

There are several interesting aspects of this flight, though.  First off, it's the third completely private space mission of Starship.  The first will be Jared Isaacman's Polaris III mission, the first manned flight of Starship; the second will be Maezawa's flight.  Second off, the first seats were bought by none other than Dennis Tito, the first space tourist who bought a ride to the International Space Station in 2001.  Tito bought tickets for himself and his wife, Akiko Tito. 

Dennis Tito said that after his Soyuz ride to space, he always wanted to go back, but there just wasn't a vehicle he trusted.  I guess that means Soyuz didn't leave a really positive impression. 

That changed about a year and a half ago when he and his wife, Akiko Tito, visited SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. After a tour, they discussed possible space tourism trips, and it did not take long for the lunar idea to come up. Would Tito be interested in riding aboard SpaceX's Starship vehicle for a flight around the Moon?

"We looked at each other, and we knew right away," Dennis Tito said this week, during an interview with Ars alongside his wife.

"I said yes, I want to go," Akiko Tito added. "We both wanted to go."

Dennis and Akiko Tito, SpaceX photo.

This flight will be a circumlunar flyby that won't land on the moon, but an experience that only a few people in history have had.  Dennis Tito said he wasn't at liberty to say what this flight will cost them.  There's a report that the Starship to be used will have a dozen seats and they appear to be open to bids.  Naturally, the idea of a married couple flying in space together is novel and is getting some attention, but with a dozen seats, you can be pretty sure it won't just be the two of them.  

The timing of this trip depends on how quickly Starship can get into service.  Musk has made it clear that they're being very cautious in development lately, simply because they've learned that a big RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly) could set them back a lot of months.  Today, for example, they destacked ship 24 from booster 7 and I can find no published reason for it.

The timeline for all of these missions hinges on the development of the Starship vehicle, which may make a debut orbital test flight in the coming months from South Texas. After that, the large, fully reusable launch system will fly dozens of uncrewed missions, mostly carrying Starlink payloads, before humans climb on board. This is because Starship will make a propulsive landing back on Earth—something no crew vehicle has ever done—and has no backup should there be some sort of landing failure. 

Dennis Tito realizes he's going to have to wait, and that's complicated by the fact that he just turned 82.  He and Akiko have both been given flight-level physicals and passed with no issues, but the longer Starship takes to get to this point, the riskier it gets.  I'm guessing most of us have some experiences with age not being kind to us.  The oldest (former) astronaut to spend time on orbit was John Glenn, who took a nine day flight on a Space Shuttle in 1998 at age 77.  If you include suborbital flights, then William Shatner's ride on Blue Origin's New Shepard at age 90 last October is the high bar.



  1. Well, by having paid passengers, it encourages quicker and better work because paying customers.

    And, yeah, who in their right minds would purposely fly on Soyuz when there are viable alternatives?

    I think one of the things slowing Starship progress is that there are openly hostile Feds looking for an excuse to curb-stomp SpaceX, any excuse, any even partially passable excuse. So the days of "launch it to clear the pad" are gone, sadly. Can't say it wasn't kind of fun to watch the RUDs and crashes (kind of like watching car crashes at races) but, well, scrutiny is on the 'X' and they have to be careful these days.

    1. I think Beans is onto the problem for SpaceX regarding Starship. Technically, I think SpaceX can get the job done. However, I think Politics will greatly delay and may likely kill Starship even if they take greater care in the development program.

    2. The thing about watching the first prototypes of Starship crash and burn is that Elon pretty much said there was like a better than 50-50 chance the missions would fail. It was probably the most valuable learning experiences they could have had.

      The thing about the political argument is that SpaceX is building a fan base in the space science community, including people in NASA, the JPL and all the big players. They're starting to realize just how much Starship can change everything and are getting behind it.

      There's still an open debate on whether SLS launches before Starship and while I think SLS will be first, SLS may be limited to one or two launches. Ever, not per year. It's simply too expensive and not capable enough. It's a 1970s design and as SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Relativity Space and a bunch of others are demonstrating, those days are long gone.

  2. You should raffle off a seat on the Starship Moon shot here on your blog. Your hit count will go - to the moon. Add advertising to fund it. (You're welcome.)

    1. Gee, if the rides to suborbital space on New Shepard cost $28 million (first one) then going to the moon is going to have to be closer to $50 million. I could sell tickets for $50,000. I just need to sell a thousand and I get that many views in a day. That's $50,000 ticket but a 1 in a thousand chance at $50 million. C'mon people! We can do this!

    2. SiG: Will you accept a post-dated personal check? :-)

    3. Will you accept a post-dated personal check?

      From you? Sure! For the rest of you, Anonymous has made more comments here than anybody for the 12-1/2 years here.

      Dated next week is fine, but much more post-dated, like next year, I'll forget I have it.

      ;-) if needed

  3. NASA did a lunar fly-by. 1970, IIRC.
    None since then.

    At this race, they'll have been completely lapped from inception to present by Space-X in two years or so, and become utterly superfluous, much like PBS.

    1. I think you're thinking of Apollo 8, around Christmas '68. That was the last purely lunar orbiting mission without landing. Christmas eve was the night the crew took turns reading verses from Genesis 1.

      Since Apollo 17 - 50 years ago this December - nobody has been out that far.

  4. Nope.
    I was referring to Apollo XIII, AKA "The Lucky One".
    That was NASA's last lunar fly-by, AFAIK.
    Pretty sure I got the year right without looking. ;)

    1. Ah... the unintended flyby. Without looking it up, I'm pretty sure you got the year right. I assumed you meant the first flyby because it was sooner and made NASA look better, but SpaceX is still beating them.

      My apologies.