News & Politics

Elon Musk and SpaceX Announce Return to Moon

Excitement has been building all afternoon about an announcement by Elon Musk and SpaceX, and the story is finally out: two private citizens have contracted with SpaceX to be the first humans to make a deep-space trip in 45 years. The mission will be the second crewed use of the SpaceX Dragon Crew vehicle, following two tests to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — an un-crewed test later this year, followed by taking a crew early in 2018.

SpaceX already has a contract with NASA for three cargo and one crewed mission a year.

Unlike the NASA missions, this lunar circumnavigation will use SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Heavy booster, which SpaceX developed privately. It will be launched from Pad 39A, the same pad used by the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

This announcement seems to steal a march on NASA and the acting head of NASA, Robert Lightfoot. On February 15, Lightfoot announced a study to determine whether the first test of the Orion and Space Launch System could be used to send two people to the Moon:

I have asked Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.

So it appears we have a new space race starting: can private space beat NASA to the Moon, and do it by the end of 2018?