SpaceX has long been bullish on the idea of selling seats on its spacecraft to private citizens who are willing to pony up enough cash for a trip into space. The company has said in the past that it will do just that once the technology is in place, but last night the official SpaceX surprise everyone by announcing that the reveal of the very first paid Moon passenger is coming on Monday, September 17.
The trip, which will take the person (or persons?) on a round-trip journey around Earth’s only natural satellite, will be made possible by SpaceX’s BFR. The ‘Big Falcon Rocket’ (or Big F*cking Rocket, depending on who you ask) isn’t anywhere close to actually getting off the ground today, so there are a whole lot of questions the company will need to answer when it makes the announcement.
SpaceX is a company doing things that have never really been done before. It has successfully commercialized spaceflight, sending supplies to the International Space Station on a regular basis and launching countless satellites for all kinds of customers. That’s all awesome — seriously, it is — but the company has yet to actually put a person in space.
Both SpaceX and Boeing are currently racing to fulfill NASA’s crewed spacecraft needs, and both companies are well behind their original schedules. SpaceX is going to get there, and it’s well on its way, but it’s just not there yet, and that raises some big concerns now that the company is days away from parading its first “space tourist” in front of the media.
Nobody really knows the timeline for when SpaceX’s BFR will be ready. The best-case scenario — that is, the timeline with no setbacks or delays — is still pushing well into the 2020s, based on the current state of the company’s hardware. Even the earliest successful tests will be years ahead of an actual manned launch, and farther still from a space tourism trip.
Whoever SpaceX announces as its first private astronaut on Monday shouldn’t expect to be heading to space before 2023 at the absolute earliest, with 2024 or 2025 being much more likely. If test failures or delays mount, it could be even later than that.
Nevertheless, SpaceX does indeed seem fully committed to following through. The identity of the first passenger is still unknown, but CEO Elon Musk has ramped up speculation by tweeting out a Japanese flag emoji when asked. There are plenty of science-savvy Japanese billionaires, so it’s a real toss-up at this point, but we won’t have to wait long to find out.