SpaceX to take tourist Dennis Tito on Starship around the Moon

Tito’s wife plans to join him on the weeklong trip, but the launch date has yet to be determined.

Dennis Tito in a space suit gives a thumbs up after returning to earth from Space in 2001
US multimillionaire Dennis Tito travelled to the International Space Station in 2001. The world’s first space tourist has signed up to fly around the Moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship [File:Mikhail Metzel/AP Photo]

Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, has signed up once again to go into space, but this time he plans to fly around the Moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship rocket.

SpaceX said on Wednesday that the rocket will take Tito and his wife, Akiko, within 200km (125 miles) of the far side of the Moon without landing on its surface. The dates of the weeklong mission have not yet been set. It could be years away.

“Dennis and Akiko Tito are the first two crewmembers announced on Starship’s second commercial spaceflight around the Moon,” SpaceX said in a statement. “This will be Dennis’ second mission to space after becoming the first commercial astronaut to visit the International Space Station in 2001, and Akiko will be among the first women to fly around the Moon on a Starship.”

Tito kicked off space tourism 21 years ago by becoming the first person to pay his own way into space and antagonising NASA in the process. The US space agency did not want a sightseer hanging around while the station was being built, but the Russian Space Agency needed the cash and, with the help of US-based Space Adventures, launched a string of wealthy clients to the station through the 2000s.

The couple’s contract includes an option for a flight within five years. Tito would be 87 by then, and he wanted an out in case his health falters.

“We have to keep healthy for as many years as it’s going to take for SpaceX to complete this vehicle,” Tito told The Associated Press. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair, not doing any good exercise, if it wasn’t for this mission.”

“But if I stayed in good health, I’d wait 10 years,” he said.

Tito’s wife, 57, said she needed no persuading. The Los Angeles residents are both pilots and said they understand the risks. They share Musk’s vision of a spacefaring future and believe a married couple flying together to the Moon will inspire others to do the same.

Tito expects he will also shatter preconceived notions about age, much as John Glenn’s space shuttle flight did in 1998. The first American to orbit the Earth went into space a second time 36 years after his first historic flight and still holds the record as the oldest person in orbit.

“He was only 77. He was just a young man,” Tito said. “I might end up being 10 years older than him.”

For Tito, it is a chance to relive the joy of his trip to the International Space Station now that he is retired with time on his hands. He is not interested in hopping on a 10-minute flight to the edge of space or repeating what he did 21 years ago. “Been there, done that,” he said.

A SpaceX rocket is to take space tourist Dennis Tito  within 200km (125 miles) of the Moon without landing on its surface [File: Veronica G Cardenas/Reuters]

Tito, who sold his investment company Wilshire Associates almost two years ago, said he does not feel guilty splurging on spaceflight versus spending the money here on Earth.

“We’re retired, and now it’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work,” he said.

Tito has not said how much the trip will cost.

The couple recognises there is a lot of testing and development still ahead for Starship, a shiny, bullet-shaped behemoth that is yet to even attempt to reach space.

Tito is actually the second billionaire to make a Starship reservation for a flight around the Moon. Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 that he was buying an entire flight so he could take eight or so other people with him, preferably artists. The two men both flew to the space station from Kazakhstan atop Russian rockets 20 years apart.

A handful of companies, including SpaceX and Richard Branson-founded Virgin Galactic SPCE.N, are striving to make space travel a reality while Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin currently offers suborbital joyrides that hit an altitude of about 106km (66 miles) above the Earth.

William Shatner, an American actor who played captain James T Kirk on the TV series Star Trek became the oldest person to ride a rocket into space when he traveled on a Blue Origin flight last year when he was 90.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies