CHPDE CANAVERAL, Fla. (HPD) — The world’s first space tourist wants to return, only this time he’s signed up for a trip around the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship.
For Dennis Tito, 82, it’s a chance to evoke the joy of his trip to the International Space Station now that he’s retired and has time. He is not interested in getting on a flight that takes him just to the edge of space, or repeating what he did 21 years ago.
Its week-long lunar flyby — the date of which has not been determined and will be in a few years — will bring it within 200 kilometers (125 miles) of the dark side of the Moon. In addition, he will have company: his wife Akiko and 120 other people willing to pay the high cost of the trip.
Tito did not say how much he paid for the ticket: his flight to the Russian station cost 20 million dollars.
The pair acknowledge that many tests and other details remain for the Starship, a shiny bullet-shaped rocket that has not yet tried to reach space.
“We have to stay healthy for the years it takes SpaceX to complete their vehicle,” Tito said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. “I could be sitting in a rocking chair, without exercising, if it weren’t for this mission.”
Tito is the second billionaire to make a Starship reservation for a flight around the Moon. Japanese tycoon Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 that he was going to buy a flight so he could take eight or more passengers with him, preferably artists. The two men flew to the space station from Kazakhstan aboard Russian rockets, 20 years apart.
Tito started space tourism in 2001, becoming the first person to pay for his trip to space and antagonizing NASA in the process. The US space agency did not want a hiker on the station while it was being built. But the Russian Space Agency needed the money and, with the help of US firm Space Adventures, brought a number of wealthy clients to the station in the 2000s and, just a year ago, to Maezawa.
Wealthy clients are taking short space trips with Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin. Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company, hopes to take passengers into space next year.
Starship has yet to launch into space powered by the Super Heavy from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border. At 120 meters long and with 7.7 million kilograms of liftoff thrust, it is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. NASA has a contract for Starship to take its astronauts to the moon in 2025, in the first landing since the Apollo missions.
Tito said the couple’s contract with SpaceX, signed in August 2021, includes an option for a flight within five years. Tito would be 87 years old at the time and wants an escape in case his health fails.
“But if I was still healthy I would wait 10 years,” he said.
His wife, who is 57, says she didn’t have to be convinced. Both residents of Los Angeles are pilots and understand the risks. They share Musk’s vision of a space future and believe that a married couple traveling to space will inspire others to do so.
Tito, who sold his holdings in Wilshire Associates nearly two years ago, says he has no qualms about spending the money on spaceflight instead of on Earth.
“We are retired and it is time to enjoy the reward for the work done,” he said.
The Associated Press receives support for its health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The HPD is solely responsible for the content.