Slingshot around the moon for US$150m

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When Irene's not finding reasons to go globetrotting, with a camera almost permanently fixed to her face, she's reading up on all the latest gizmos and gadgets or trying her hand at adventure sports.

Space Adventures has a new mission: slinging rich travellers around the moon. With one more passenger, the trips could be just four years away.

Ever since Dennis Tito took the first flight in 2001, Space Adventures has been taking well-heeled tourists into space. Now, the company is readying trips to the moon.
(Credit: Space Adventures)

According to the Smithsonian magazine Air & Space, anyone with a spare US$150 million laying around may have the opportunity to hop aboard a future lunar flight.

To be sure, it's not going to be United Airlines ferrying the super rich to the moon. Rather, it is likely to be Space Adventures, the private company that for the last 10 years has been taking mega-rich passengers on trips to the International Space Station.

One person has already bought the first ticket, Air & Space reports. Once Space Adventures sells a second, "metal will be bent ... training will proceed and preparations for the test flight will begin. From that point to the first tourists swinging around the moon: about four years".

Even if you're a billionaire, though, don't count on leaving your footprints in actual lunar dust. That's because, for now, at least, Space Adventures appears to be planning only to take its paying customers on trips around the moon. As Richard Garriott, a wealthy video game designer and a past space tourist put it, designing an actual private trip to the surface of the moon is likely to run about a billion dollars. "We think the market for people who can afford to land themselves on the moon and get back off is pretty close to zero," Garriott told Air & Space.

But for Eric Anderson, the 37-year-old chairman of Space Adventures, the moon is still accessible, even if it's from a short distance above the surface. And so he's pointing Space Adventures in the direction of a plan crafted by Chris Faranetta, a "student of space history", who knew that it could be possible to modify Russian Soyuz-TMA spacecraft in order to carry two ticket buyers and a professional cosmonaut to the moon.

And now, with one $150 million ticket sold, and one seat still available for the initial flight, Space Adventures "finds itself ... on the verge, but not quite ready, to pull off a space flight that no one, not even NASA, has accomplished in a generation", Air & Space reports.

For those who take the trip, their voyage will begin at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Khazakhstan, and will last seven days. "Three and a half days of travel will bring the crew around the far side of the moon, the face that Earthlings never see," writes Air & Space. "The crew will skim the mountaintops without going into orbit, swing back around to the front side and then head home to Earth — a figure-eight trajectory similar to the one travelled by the crew of Apollo 13. After another three and a half days, the crew's Soyuz re-entry module will hit Earth's atmosphere and parachute down to the Kazakh steppe."

Space Adventures is expected to run one test flight to demonstrate that the trips are safe enough for the very, very rich.

Via CNET



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