Nobody's paid Earth's moon a visit in more than four decades. On Dec. 11, 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison "Jack" Schmidt and Eugene Cernan walked across the lunar surface, a feat that's been matched by only 10 other people. That was — to date — the most recent occasion in which a human being set foot on the moon, or entered its orbit.
SpaceX intends to pick up where the Apollo program left off. Established in 2002 by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, the Space Exploration Technology Corporation — SpaceX for short — has a penchant for making history. Back in 2010, it became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and then recover it. SpaceX went on to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and in February 2018, the company launched a red Tesla Roadster into the final frontier.
Now we've learned that in early September 2018, SpaceX booked its first paying customer on an upcoming commercial flight around the moon.
Yusaku Maezawa is a Japanese billionaire and the founder of the online fashion mall Zozotown. Ranked as Japan's 18th-richest resident by Forbes magazine, he has an estimated net worth of $3 billion and is a well-known art collector. Musk revealed at a Sept. 17 press conference that Maezawa will be flying to the dark side of the moon and back on an as-yet unbuilt rocket.
Known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), this privately-funded launch vehicle and spacecraft system is still being developed. If all goes well, it may be ready to take Maezawa on his lunar adventure as soon as 2023. However, Musk admits that he's "not sure" if this timeline is feasible.
At the time of its launch, the finished BFR is expected to stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall. Powered by "Raptor"-style engines, the ship will come with movable fins near its nose and tail. SpaceX reports that up to 100 passengers should be able to fit inside the finished BFR.
The rocket was conceived with the goal of helping mankind set up a colony on Mars. According to Musk, it is intended to be "an interplanetary transport system that's capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system, as you establish [fueling stations] along the way."
But before that happens, the BFR will take Maezawa on four to five-day, 240,000-mile (386,242-kilometer) excursion around Earth's natural satellite. Like the crew of NASA's Apollo 8 mission, Maezawa will circle the moon on this trip without actually landing there.
And he won't be going alone. "I would like to invite six to eight artists from around the world to join me," Maezawa said during a webcast with Musk. The space tourist hasn't selected anyone yet, so keep your fingers crossed. His artistic travel buddies will be getting a free ride, but exactly how much cash Maezawa laid down in order to purchase his ticket is a well-kept secret.