Tito’s wife plans to accompany him on the week-long trip, but the start date has yet to be determined.
Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, has signed up again to go to space, but this time he plans to orbit the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship rocket.
SpaceX said Wednesday the rocket will take Tito and his wife Akiko to the far side of the moon within 200 km (125 miles) without landing on its surface. The dates of the week-long mission have not yet been set. It could take years.
“Dennis and Akiko Tito are the first two crew members announced for Starship’s second commercial spaceflight around the moon,” SpaceX said in a statement. “This will be Dennis’ second space mission after becoming the first commercial astronaut to visit the International Space Station in 2001, and Akiko will be one of the first women to fly a spacecraft around the moon.”
Tito started space tourism 21 years ago by becoming the first person to pay for his own way into space, opposing NASA in the process. The US space agency didn’t want a sightseer loitering while the station was under construction, but the Russian space agency needed the money and, with the help of US-based Space Adventures, brought a number of wealthy clients to the station in the 2000s.
The couple’s contract includes a flight option within five years. Tito would be 87 by then, and he wanted some time off in case his health began to fail.
“We have to stay healthy for so many years until SpaceX completes this vehicle,” Tito told The Associated Press. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair and not doing good exercise if it weren’t for this mission.”
“But if I stay in good health, I would wait ten years,” he said.
Tito’s wife, 57, said she needed no persuasion. The Los Angeles residents are both pilots and said they understand the risks. They share Musk’s vision of a space-faring future and believe that a married couple going to the moon together will inspire others to do the same.
Tito expects he will also shatter preconceptions about old age, much like John Glenn’s space shuttle flight did in 1998. The first American to orbit the Earth flew 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 end up being maybe 10 years older than him.”
For Tito, it’s a chance to relive the joy of his journey to the International Space Station now that he’s retired and has free time. He’s not interested in taking a 10-minute flight to the edge of space or repeating what he did 21 years ago. “Bein there, done that,” he said.
Tito, who sold his investment company Wilshire Associates nearly two years ago, said he didn’t feel guilty about jumping into space travel instead of spending the money here on Earth.
“We’re retired and now it’s time to reap the rewards of all our hard work,” he said.
Tito did not say how much the trip will cost.
The pair realize that Starship, a shiny, spherical behemoth that’s not even trying to reach outer space, still has a lot of testing and development ahead of it.
In fact, Tito is the second billionaire to reserve a spacecraft for a trip around the moon. Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 that he would buy an entire flight to take about eight more people, preferably artists, with him. The two men both flew 20 years apart on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan to the space station.
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’ Blue Origin is currently offering suborbital jaunts that reach altitudes of around 106 km (66 miles) reach above ground.
William Shatner, an American actor who played Captain James T Kirk on the TV series Star Trek, became the oldest person to go into space in a rocket when he traveled on a Blue Origin flight last year at age 90.