Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said today that he plans to blast off on the first-ever commercial trip around the moon and will invite six to eight artists, architects, designers and other creative people on the weeklong journey.
The SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket is scheduled to make the trip in 2023, Maezawa and company founder Elon Musk announced at an event Monday at its headquarters near Los Angeles.
Maezawa, 42, said he wants his guests to be inspired to create once they return to Earth "to inspire the dreamer in all of us."
"I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind," Maezawa said. "Just thinking about it now gets my heart racing."
Musk said the billionaire will pay "a lot of money" for the lunar orbit but he declined to disclose the exact amount.
He said Maezawa, founder of Japan's largest retail website and one the country's richest people, came to SpaceX with the idea for the flight.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the BFR is still in development and will make several unmanned test launches before it takes on passengers. The reusable 118-meter (387-foot) rocket will have its own dedicated passenger ship.
The average distance from Earth to the moon is about 237,685 miles (382,500 kilometers). No one has been there since an Apollo mission in 1972.
The mission will not involve a lunar landing.
On its website, SpaceX is touting the "first passenger on lunar BFR mission," implying there will be more moon trips.
Astronauts last visited the moon during NASA's Apollo program. Twenty-four men flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972 and half of them made it to the lunar surface.
NASA is planning its own lunar flyby with a crew around 2023. The space agency also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. The outpost would serve as a stepping-off point for the lunar surface, Mars and points beyond.
Musk outlined a somewhat different SpaceX mission last year. He said then that two people who know each other approached the company about a weeklong flight to the moon and back. He had said that the trip would happen this year. Musk did not name the clients last year or say how much they would pay.
That original mission would have used a Falcon Heavy rocket — the most powerful rocket flying today — and a Dragon crew capsule similar to the one NASA astronauts will use to fly to the International Space Station as early as next year.
The era of space tourism began in 2001 when California businessman Dennis Tito paid for a journey on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station. The trip was organized by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which has since sent several more paying customers on spaceflights.
SpaceX already has a long list of firsts, with its sights ultimately set on Mars. It became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and safely return it to Earth in 2010, and the first commercial enterprise to fly to the space station in 2012 on a supply mission.
Musk's successes have recently been overshadowed by his behavior and the struggles of his Tesla electric car company to deliver.
He recently criticised analysts during a Tesla earnings conference call, labeled a British diver in the recent Thai cave rescue drama as a pedophile, took a hit off an apparent marijuana-tobacco joint during a podcast interview, and tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla private but then announced the deal was off.
Two high executives announced departures from Tesla, and the diver sued Musk on Monday. Last month he told the New York Times he was overwhelmed by job stress.
The British diver, Vernon Unsworth, sued Musk for defamation on Monday and is seeking more than US$75,000.
Musk and SpaceX engineers built a small submarine and shipped it to Thailand to help with the rescue. The device wasn't used and in the interview, Unsworth called it a "PR stunt" and said it wouldn't have worked to free the boys who were trapped in the flooded cave.