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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

SpaceX reveals plans to launch tourist on Moon trip 

Company says it has a customer for journey aboard rocket that is still in development

Elon Musk presents plans for a new SpaceX rocket in Adelaide on September 29, 2017. AFP
Elon Musk presents plans for a new SpaceX rocket in Adelaide on September 29, 2017. AFP

SpaceX says it has signed up a space tourist for trip around the Moon and will reveal their identity on Monday.

The traveller will be carried aboard the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), a massive launch vehicle that the company is still developing to carry people into deep space.

"SpaceX has signed the world's first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle — an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of travelling to space," the company said on Twitter.

SpaceX gave no further details, but said more information would be revealed at an event on Monday afternoon at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

This is not the first time the company, headed by internet entrepreneur and Tesla electric car chief executive Elon Musk, has touted plans to send tourists around the Moon.

In February last year, SpaceX announced it would send the world's first two space tourists around the Moon by the end of this year

That plan called for them to travel on a Dragon crew vehicle, similar to the supply ships that SpaceX routinely sends the International Space Station.

They would have blasted off aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket.

However, the company has remained mum about those plans in recent months.

The names and identities of those two tourists — and how much they intended to pay — were never revealed.

Humans have not set foot on the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972, capping an era of US national pride.

American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to explore the lunar surface in 1969, a moment seen and heard around the world when Armstrong declared "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Only 24 people have ever been to the Moon.

US President Donald Trump has championed plans to put boots on the Moon again, as Nasa works on building a lunar gateway that would serve as a launching point for missions heading even further into deep space, such as asteroids or Mars.

SpaceX is a key commercial partner to the US space agency, and is working on a crew ship that will make its first flight to the orbiting International Space Station next year, restoring access to space from US soil for the first time since 2011, when the space shuttle programme was retired after 30 years.

Boeing is also hard at work on its crew vehicle, with pioneering flights planned for 2019 as well.

SpaceX currently has a US$1.6 billion (Dh5.9bn) contract with Nasa to supply the astronauts living at the ISS, via regular cargo trips on its Dragon spaceship, launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The BFR is SpaceX's newest rocket, a super powerful launch vehicle with 31 engines and the capacity to lift 150 tonnes into space.

During a speech in Australia last year, Mr Musk said he was hopeful that the BFR would be able to launch and land at least two cargo ships on Mars by 2022.

"I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and launch in about five years," he said.

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