The world’s first space tourist signs up for a flight around the moon

The world’s first space tourist wants to go back – only this time he’s signed up for a trip around the moon aboard Elon Musk’s spaceship. For Dennis Tito, 82, it’s a chance to relive the joy of his trip to the International Space Station now that he’s retired with time on his hands. He’s not interested in taking a 10-minute flight to the edge of space or repeating what he did 21 years ago.

“Been there, done that.” His week-long moonshot — date to be determined and years in the future — will take him within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the moon’s far side. He will have company: his wife Akiko and 10 others willing to shell out big bucks for the ride. Tito will not say how much he pays; His Russian station flight cost $20 million.

The pair realize that Starship, a shiny, spherical behemoth that hasn’t even attempted to reach outer space, still has much testing and development ahead of it. “We have to stay sane for as many years as it will take for SpaceX to complete this vehicle,” Tito said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair and not doing good exercise if it weren’t for this mission.”

In fact, Tito is the second billionaire to reserve a spacecraft for a trip around the moon. Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 that he would buy an entire flight so he could take about eight others, preferably artists, with him. The two men both flew to the space station from Kazakhstan on Russian rockets 20 years apart.

Tito launched space tourism in 2001, becoming the first person to pay for his own way into space, and angering NASA in the process. The US space agency didn’t want a sightseer hanging around while the station was being built. But the Russian space agency needed the money and, with the help of US-based Space Adventures, brought a number of wealthy clients to the station in the 2000s and Maezawa just a year ago.

Well-heeled customers try shorter tastes of space with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic expects to take paying passengers next year. Starship has yet to launch on a Super Heavy Booster from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border. With 120 meters (394 feet) and 7.7 million kilograms (17 million pounds) of launch thrust, it is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. NASA has already commissioned a spacecraft to land its astronauts on the moon in 2025 or so, in the first lunar landing since Apollo.

Tito said the couple’s deal with SpaceX, signed in August 2021 and announced Wednesday, includes an option for a flight within five years. Tito would be 87 by then and he wanted some time off in case his health began to fail. “But if I stay in good health, I would wait ten years,” he said. Tito’s wife, 57, said she didn’t need any convincing. Los Angeles residents are both pilots and understand the risks. They share Musk’s vision of a space-faring future and believe that a married couple going to the moon together will inspire others to do the same.

Tito, who sold his investment company Wilshire Associates nearly two years ago, said he doesn’t feel guilty if he spent it on space travel instead of spending the money here on Earth. “We’re retired and now it’s time to reap the rewards of all that hard work,” he said. Tito expects he will also shatter preconceptions about old age, much like John Glenn’s space shuttle did in 1998. The first American to orbit the Earth still holds the record as the oldest human in orbit. “He was only 77. He was just a young man,” Tito said. “In the end I’m maybe 10 years older than him”

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