Elon Musk Plans to Take Humans Farthest into Space They've Ever Been in 2018

Elon Musk announces that SpaceX will fly two private citizens on a mission around the moon in 2018.

Elon Musk continues to make splashy news, with his company SpaceX announcing that it is planning to send two private citizens on a circumlunar mission by the end of next year. The 2018 trip would mark humanity’s return to the moon after over 40 years and will last about 5 days.

The journey would involve flying past the moon, just above its surface, reaching as far as 400,000 miles away from Earth, going into deep space until gravity finally turns the spacecraft around, bringing it back to our planet. This would be the farthest in space humans have ever been, as the current record is 248,655 miles away, set by the Apollo 13 mission.

The two would-be astronauts have not been identified yet, with much speculation about who they are. What we know is that they are very wealthy as they already paid a “significant deposit" towards the more than $100 million the trip will likely cost.

In 2017, the company plans to conduct health and fitness tests of the passengers and begin initial training. The moon trip will be undertaken on its new Falcon Heavy rocket, which will be launched on its first test this summer. The new rocket promises to be two thirds as powerful as Saturn V, which has taken astronauts to the moon previously. The Falcon Heavy is designed to have 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust. The spacecraft to be involved in the moon mission is SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsule.

An artist's rendering of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

This will be the first time that SpaceX will fly people. As it did have two of its rockets blow up, Musk acknowledged the risks:

The two passengers “are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here,” said Musk. “They are certainly not naïve. We’ll do everything we can to minimize that risk. But it’s not zero.”

Still, he feels good about their chances, saying SpaceX’s “success rate is actually quite high.”   

Musk’s plans could fit in well with President Trump’s emerging space program, yet to be laid out in detail. There have been many indications that a return to the moon would receive Republican support and the success by SpaceX in this lunar tourist venture could bode well for its future cooperation with the government. SpaceX already works closely with NASA, which itself has been planning a crewed mission to the moon in 2019, but might change its plans if the SpaceX mission continues as currently announced. 

Some doubt whether SpaceX can pull off such a technical feat on such an ambitious schedule, especially as the company has not yet flown humans. Still it would be hard to bet against Musk with any grand ventures. SpaceX recently dazzled with another drone barge landing, while Musk has been getting attention for starting a tunnel-digging business, claiming we are already cyborgs and chiming in on the future of humanity.

Falcon 9 rocket just before landing on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, on January 14, 2017. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX sees the circumlunar mission as an exciting step for all of us here on Earth, stating that “Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration.”

Cover photo: An artist's illustration of a crewed Dragon spacecraft in space. Credit: SpaceX

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

Earth features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, Earth, features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Historic Environment Scotland
Surprising Science
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
Keep reading Show less