HAWTHORNE: SpaceX says it will reveal on Monday the name of the mysterious passenger it plans to send into orbit around the Moon, an ambitious project spearheaded by eccentric CEO Elon Musk.
An event to unveil the first lunar traveler since the last US Apollo mission in 1972 is planned for Monday at 6:00 pm (0100 GMT Tuesday) at SpaceX’s headquarters and rocket factory in Hawthorne, California, in the middle of metropolitan Los Angeles.
An onslaught of questions about the passenger’s identity on Twitter has failed to coax any details from Musk, except one hint.
In answer to a query about whether Musk himself would be the passenger, he tweeted an emoji of a Japanese flag.
Until now, Americans are the only ones who have left Earth’s orbit. A total of 24 NASA astronauts — all white men — voyaged to the Moon during the Apollo era of the 1960s and ’70s. Twelve of them walked on the lunar surface.
Musk’s tweet suggests that the first Moon tourist could be different.
In announcing the event last week, SpaceX described the journey as “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space.”
It also said it would reveal “why” — a word that may imply the mission has a goal other than simply satisfying the whim of a wealthy client.
The price of a ticket and the date of travel are unknown.
The ride will take place aboard a Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which has only been shown in designs and images so far, and may not be ready for human flight for another four to five years at least, according to speculation from industry media.
The BFR was first announced in 2016, touted as the most powerful rocket in history, even more potent than the Saturn V Moon rocket that launched the Apollo missions five decades ago.
Last year, Musk told a space congress in Australia that the BFR’s admittedly ambitious goal was to make a test flight to Mars in 2022, followed by a crewed flight to the Red Planet in 2024.
– ‘Multi-planetary species’ –
As curiosity mounts over the futuristic rocket, Musk tweeted three images, showing it will consist of a first stage with engines and fuel systems, and a second stage with the spacecraft where the passengers will ride.
Like SpaceX’s existing rockets, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the first stage can detach from the rest of the rocket and return to Earth for an upright landing.
The spacecraft will continue on toward the Moon, powered by its own engines.
The BFR spacecraft’s shape is reminiscent of the space shuttle, the bus-like US spaceships that carried astronauts to space 135 times from 1981 to 2011.
Musk has said he wants the BFR’s vessel to be able to hold around 100 people. The volume of its interior pressurized area would be comparable to that of an Airbus A380 — something that has never been done.
Musk has said the launch system could one day be used to colonize the Moon and Mars in order to make humans a “multi-planetary” species.
A Martian mission is far more complicated than a back-and-forth trip around the Moon.
A Mars trip could take three to six months, including several fuel-ups.
Going to the Moon could be far quicker. US astronauts generally made the trip in about three days.
Whatever the details turn out to be, SpaceX’s Moon trip promises to be far superior to space tourism plans currently under way by other private companies.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British tycoon Richard Branson, and billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s rocket company Blue Origin, are working on trips to the edge of space that could offer tourists a chance at weightlessness for 10 minutes or so.
Virgin’s trip will cost about $250,000. Blue Origin’s price has not yet been revealed.
Russian and Chinese companies are also working on space tourism plans.—AFP