SpaceX promises a Moon vacation in 2018
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SpaceX promises a Moon vacation in 2018

SpaceX is known for having some pretty ambitious
goals. It is working on starting that whole human
colony on Mars, after all. But now the company has added another ridiculous
goal to its list. It’s going to try to send two people around
the Moon at the end of 2018. These astronauts won’t be employed by NASA,
though. They’re paying customers who approached
SpaceX to do the trip. We don’t know who they are just yet, but
they’ve put down a sizable deposit for the mission. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the trip should
take about a week to pull off. The two customers will launch on top of the
Falcon Heavy; that’s the souped-up version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that’s supposed
to fly for the first time this summer. And the passengers will ride inside the Crew
Dragon capsule, an upgraded version of the Dragon cargo capsule. SpaceX has already been developing the Crew
Dragon to carry astronauts to and from the station for NASA as part of the Commercial
Crew Program. Apparently the vehicle can do just fine carrying
people near the Moon too. The plan is for the Crew Dragon to loop around
the Moon, go a bit out into deep space, and then come back to Earth. All in all, a trip that spans between 300,000
and 400,000 miles. The vehicle will mostly be automated, but
if there is an emergency the passengers may have to step in. To get back, the Crew Dragon will reenter
Earth’s atmosphere and land the passengers, hopefully gently. It’s a unique mission for SpaceX, because
it’ll officially put it in the space tourism business. So far, the company has launched satellites
for commercial companies and cargo for NASA. And SpaceX will be launching people soon too,
but those riders will be NASA astronauts. If it pulls this off, it’ll be the first
time private citizens have traveled this far out into space. While this is new territory for SpaceX, the
Moon mission sounds an awful lot like another upcoming space mission — one that NASA wants
to do. Right now, NASA is building a brand-new rocket
called the Space Launch System, or S-L-S and a crew capsule called Orion. Together, the pair is meant to carry astronauts
into deep space and onto Mars someday. The S-L-S hasn’t flown yet, but the plan
is for the rocket to fly for the first time — without a crew — in late 2018. But recently, NASA said it was going to look
into maybe putting people on the first flight of the SLS, possibly for a mission in late
2019. That trip will take a two-person crew, riding
inside the Orion crew capsule, on an eight or nine-day mission around the Moon and back. Hmm, that sounds familiar? So with this Moon mission announcement, SpaceX
seems to have created a bit of a space race between the public and private sector. The company is sending the message that it
can do what NASA plans to do, only faster. It seems like a political move for SpaceX,
too, since the new administration may be more interested in using the private space industry. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy looks to be significantly
cheaper than the SLS, so officials may be interested in using the more cost-efficient
option to explore space instead of what NASA is building. But there are a few big caveats to consider. First of all, NASA’s vehicles have a lot
of support in Congress, so they probably won’t be replaced by SpaceX anytime soon. Plus, SpaceX is terrible about meeting deadlines. The Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to
debut in 2013 or 2014, but its flight has been repeatedly pushed back to this year. There are also some questions of safety. Within the past two years, two of SpaceX’s
Falcon 9 rockets have exploded. Elon argues that the Falcon 9’s success
rate is still quite high, but that there will definitely be risk involved with the Moon
mission. He says the customers are “entering this
with their eyes open.” Good cause it’s gonna be one hell of a view. If the trip is successful, Elon sees these
private Moon vacations as being a big source of revenue for SpaceX. He thinks there’s a market for at least
one or two trips a year, and the missions account for 10 to 20 percent of SpaceX’s
revenue. As for how much each mission will cost, he
estimates a little more than the cost of taking people to International Space Station. Right now, NASA pays between $70 and $80 million
to send just one astronaut to the station on a Russian Soyuz rocket. So if we’re operating in that ballpark,
I uhhh guess I’ll start saving now. So Elon clarified that these people aren’t
from Hollywood. Ah, But Elon announced this moon vacation,
while I was on vacation. So I think it is only fair that I become one
of the people to go… for free.


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