Washington: SpaceX plans to announce two new space tourists slated to fly on the Starship rocket: Dennis Tito, the world's first-ever space tourist in 2001, and his wife, Akiko.
The couple paid an undisclosed amount to fly around the moon on Starship once the vehicle is complete. They will travel with 10 other undisclosed passengers on a roughly week-long journey. The trip doesn't include a landing on the lunar surface and it's unclear if the other passengers have been chosen yet.
It may be a while before the mission gets underway and there's still no target date. It's scheduled to be Starship's fourth passenger mission, conducted after SpaceX uses the vehicle to land astronauts on the moon for NASA and following trips by other customers who have purchased rides in the vessel.
Then there's the fact that Starship has yet to travel to space. SpaceX still needs to send an uncrewed version of the vehicle to orbit, which Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said could occur as early as November. The company must also show it can refuel Starship while in space so that it can reach the moon's vicinity, and it needs the necessary life-support systems and other hardware to keep humans alive.
"I know this rocket is going to be tested backwards and forwards; there'll be hundreds of flights before we're flying," Tito said in an interview with Bloomberg. "We're not going to fly next year. It's going to be a wait."
After a brief stint working as a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Tito co-founded investment-management firm Wilshire Associates in 1972. He was the first civilian space tourist to visit the International Space Station, paying $20 million to purchase a seat on Russia's Soyuz rocket for a week-long stay. Tito said that, at the time, NASA wasn't happy with his trip.
Since his flight, space tourism has greatly expanded, and NASA has opened up the ISS to more commercial endeavors. Nearly a dozen tourists have flown there with the help of a company called Space Adventures. The first all-civilian crew visited the space station in April, coordinated by a company called Axiom.
Paying customers are also able to get a brief taste of space by purchasing tickets on suborbital vehicles from companies like Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, which send passengers to the edge of space and back.
SpaceX has also entered the space-tourism market. In 2021, an all civilian crew, sponsored by billionaire Jared Isaacman, flew into orbit for three days on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, a mission called Inspiration4.
'To the Moon'
Tito's plans came about when he visited SpaceX in June 2021 after a friend of his wife arranged a meeting with company personnel. He was asked if he wanted to go to space again, either to visit the space station or on a quick trip to orbit.
"No, I want to go to the moon," Tito recalled saying. "And then I looked at Akiko just when I said that, and she said 'me, too.' And that's how it started."
Dennis Tito is 82 years old, which could make him the oldest person to go into orbit and into deep space. He acknowledged that he's been focused on staying fit while waiting for Starship's development. He and his wife, who is 57, are both pilots, while Dennis says he holds four American weightlifting records for an 80-year-old.
"Whatever will be, will be. It's going to take a certain amount of time, but it will be ready, and it will be safe when it's ready," Tito said. "It's more limited by how much time I have on this planet."