On Monday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk disclosed that two tourists who have paid for a private mission around the Moon will be taken on their tourist trip next year. For the mission, the company will use its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is still untested. The rocket is set for its first unmanned test flight later this year.

SpaceX Rocket Launch
Image Credit: SpaceX-Imagery / Pixabay

Private trip around the moon

“This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years,” Musk said, adding that the two private citizens will travel faster and further into the solar system than anyone who has traveled before them.

The U.S. has not sent any astronauts to the Moon since the 1970s. The SpaceX CEO did not give any information about the identities of the two people other than that they know each other and neither of them is from Hollywood.

In a conference call with reporters, Musk said the two citizens are quite serious about the flight. The two tourists approached the space company in late 2016, and they will take health and fitness tests and undergo the proper training this year.

The circumlunar journey will take about a week, nearing the surface of the moon without landing on it before returning to Earth, said Musk. The overall flight will go about 300,000 to 400,000 miles into space. The trajectory will be similar to that of NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission, which took the astronauts beyond the moon and back, notes Reuters.

SpaceX sees revenue potential from such trips

In a statement, SpaceX said the two passengers have already paid a “significant” sum of money to complete the Moon mission. The CEO called the total cost comparable to the amount spent to send astronauts to the International Space Station. According to The Guardian, NASA pays about $70 million a person to Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, to fly astronauts to the ISS.

Musk said, “I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year.”

He expects such space tourist fares to account for 10% to 20% of the company’s revenue.

The trip depends on a Dragon 2 capsule and the Falcon Heavy rocket. According to Musk, the Dragon 2 capsule has had a pretty high success rate so far. He did agree that the flight will be dangerous but said the tourists do know what could happen in the mission.

“They’re certainly not naive, and we’ll do everything we can to minimise that risk, but it’s not zero,” Musk said.