SpaceX: 2 private citizens will fly moon mission in 2018

Dragon 2 will carry two humans to lunar orbit

ORLANDO, Fla. – Two private citizens have paid SpaceX to fly a mission around the moon in 2018, the company announced Monday.

SpaceX will launch the private Dragon spacecraft mission with two private astronauts using the still-untested Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Pad 39A.

In a call with reporters, CEO Elon Musk said the two passengers know each other but would not disclose any more information about the individuals. He added that they approached SpaceX about the idea.

The two people will undergo health screenings and begin training for the mission later this year, according to SpaceX.

“I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here,” Musk said. “They’re certainly not naive.”

Musk added the company would do everything it can to minimize that risk.

"He certainly caught most of the space reporters by surprise," said CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood.

News 6 asked Harwood who the passengers might be, since Musk isn't saying.

"I think eventually we're going to find out who these people are. This is an historic mission, and there's no question about that," he said. "If it goes through as planned, I think they'll certainly publicize who these people are. I'm sure we'll get a chance to talk to them between now and then at some point." 

Musk said the cost is roughly the same as sending two astronauts to the International Space Station on board the Dragon 2.

Harwood ran the numbers, and he says that amounts to approximately $58 million per person.

"It sounds like a lot, but remember on a Russian Soyeuz right now, NASA is paying Russia $82 million per seat," Harwood said. "So, if they can keep those prices, that's a bargain."

Musk said the Dragon 2 capsule, or Crew Dragon, is going through human-rating by NASA to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. This will be the first crewed spaceflight for the Dragon.

The Dragon spacecraft would not have to be modified, other than the communications systems, to allow deep-space communications versus low-Earth orbit, Musk said.

The Dragon 2 capsule is designed to fly with a crew of up to seven. Musk said the two private astronauts will be the only ones on board for the lunar orbit, which will fly around the moon and back to Earth on autopilot.

The crew will be on board the Falcon Heavy during the fueling process, but Musk said he does not think this should be a concern. The company experienced a total loss in September during the fueling of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral.

Musk also said that if NASA wanted to do the first lunar orbit mission, SpaceX would give them priority.

NASA released a statement Monday after the bold announcement.

“NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher,” the statement read.“We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station.”

"This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years," a news release from SpaceX read.

Falcon Heavy is set for its first flight test later this year.

Musk said this is a big year for the company with the Falcon Heavy launch and the first Dragon 2 launch.

"Next year is going to be the big year for carrying people to the space station and beyond," Musk said.

During the announcement, Musk encouraged competition.

"We think there should be other companies and organizations doing this other than SpaceX," Musk said. "The more the better."

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