- Entrepreneur Dennis Tito and his wife Akiko purchased seats on a private trip with SpaceX's Starship rocket.
- It's the third such spaceflight Elon Musk's venture has announced to date.
- Timing for the mission is yet to be determined, and likely years away.
Entrepreneur Dennis Tito and his wife Akiko purchased seats on a private trip with SpaceX's Starship rocket, the third such spaceflight Elon Musk's venture has announced to date.
Tito – 82, and famous for becoming the first private space tourist after flying with Russia to the International Space Station in 2001 – bought two seats on a SpaceX mission that would fly a Starship to the moon and back on a week-long mission.
"I've been wanting to go to the moon since my first trip to space," Tito said during a press conference on Wednesday.
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Akiko, 57, is a real estate investor and pilot, who married Dennis Tito in 2020. Together they're expected to be the first married couple to fly around the moon.
Unlike the other two private Starship flights previously announced, the first one purchased by billionaire Jared Isaacman and the second by billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, Tito and his wife did not buy the entire flight but rather two seats. That means the lunar flight is "open for 10 others to sign up," he said.
Tito declined to comment on the cost of the seats, and a brief SpaceX blog post did not reference any financial arrangements.
SpaceX's director of Starship crew and cargo programs, Aarti Matthews, said during the briefing that the plan for Tito's flight is to spend three days flying to the moon, travel within 125 miles (or about 200 kilometers) of the lunar surface and then return to Earth.
"This mission is really groundbreaking in that it puts us on a very firm step towards airline-like operations, where now, for the first time, you can buy an individual seat to the moon," Matthews said.
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But timing for the mission is yet to be determined, and likely years away.
SpaceX has yet to reach orbit with a Starship prototype, has an expensive and high-profile NASA astronaut moon mission under contract, and needs to begin using the rocket to more rapidly deploy Starlink satellites. Plus, Tito's flight is third in the company's priority of private crew missions announced thus far.
For his part, Tito emphasized that he understands the trip around the moon "is not going to happen in the near term." He added that he expects SpaceX will complete "hundreds" of Starship flight before he and Akiko fly.
But his enthusiasm for the company's long-term goals is unabated. Two years ago Tito sold Wilshire Associates, the investment firm he founded in 1972. Since retiring, he said, he's been "looking for something to do."
"I've been following SpaceX almost on a daily basis, watching YouTube for the last 5 years, and I could see that there was an opportunity," Tito said.