SpaceX has some hot competition in the space tourism, well, space. While Elon Musk‘s company has gotten more media attention for booking its first two tourists for a trip around the Moon, Space Adventures was already making the offer.
SpaceX plans tourism flight for next year
Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, knows how to work his magic on the media and pick up free advertising in the form of news reports. He said earlier this week that two tourists have booked a flight with SpaceX to travel around the Moon and back after plunking down a substantial chunk of change to secure their seats. He didn’t name the two private citizens, although he did say that they know each other and they’re not from Hollywood.
The trip will take about a week, and the two space tourists will take a ride on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, propelled by the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into outer space. They’ll get to fly close to the Moon and then return to Earth. The two citizens contacted SpaceX late last year to request the flight and will undergo health and fitness tests and training this year to prepare them for their flight next year.
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Space Adventures beat SpaceX to the punch… sort of
With all the media attention Musk is able to muster it’s no wonder that the two “private citizens” contacted SpaceX to request a flight, but competitor Space Adventures has been offering flights around the moon since 2005. The Virginia-based firm was the first to fly tourists to the International Space Station, reports Space.com, using Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
In fact, Space Adventures has been offering trips on the Soyuz capsule since 2001. The company has flown at least seven tourists to the ISS over the last eight years, with each paying between $20 million and $30 million for their ticket, according to Quartz.
Space Adventures announced plans for the circumlunar flight for tourists in 2005, although it wasn’t until 2014 that two tourists paid for the trip, handing over $150 million for the experience. The company was planning to use the Soyuz spacecraft again, although it said that it would have to heavily modify the space capsule so that it could fly around the Moon.
SpaceX versus Space Adventures
Since 2009, Space Adventures has found it more difficult to book passage on Russia’s spacecraft, mostly because NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to the ISS as well. The U.S. space agency retired its space shuttles, thus requiring American astronauts to rely on Russia to shuttle them back and forth. SpaceX and Boeing are supposed to have their spacecraft ready to transport NASA astronauts by 2019, but they might not be ready in time. As a result, NASA might have to continue working with Russia for a longer-than-planned period of time, if the country will even agree to it.
Because the Soyuz capsule requires extensive modifications to ready it for circumlunar flight, SpaceX might be ahead of Space Adventures in this aspect of the space tourism business. The reason is because its Dragon spacecraft needs smaller changes such as adaptions to the communications system, according to Musk. Space Adventures’ reliance on Russia also means it has far less control over its business than SpaceX does because according to Space.com, it’s unclear whether Russia is even working on modifying the Soyuz spacecraft. Seeing as Musk’s company already has its first circumlunar tourist trip on the schedule, it could be pulling ahead after starting behind.