CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The world’s first space tourist wants to return — only this time, he’s signed up for a spin around the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship.
For Dennis Tito, 82, it’s a chance to relive the joy of his trip to the International Space Station now that he’s retired with time on his hands. He is not interested in flying on a 10-minute flight to the edge of space or repeating what he did 21 years ago. “I was there, I did that.”
His weekly moonshot — the date of which will be determined years into the future — will bring him within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the lunar far side. He’ll have company: his wife, Akiko, and 10 others willing to shell out big bucks for the ride.
Tito won’t say how much he pays. His flight with the Russian station cost $20 million.
The pair acknowledge there is still plenty of testing and development ahead of Starship, a glowing orb-shaped behemoth which has not yet attempted to reach space.
“We have to stay healthy for as many years as it takes for SpaceX to complete this vehicle,” Tito said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair, not getting any good exercise, if it wasn’t for this mission.”
Tito is actually the second billionaire to book a Starship for a flight around the moon. Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 he was buying an entire flight so he could take eight or so others with him, preferably artists. The two men both flew to the space station, from Kazakhstan on Russian rockets, 20 years apart.
Tito started space tourism in 2001, becoming the first person to pay his own way into space and rivaling NASA in the process. The US space agency didn’t want a rover hanging around while the station was being built. But the Russian space agency needed the cash and, with the help of US-based Space Adventures, launched a series of wealthy clients to the station during the 2000s and, just a year ago, Maezawa.
Well-heeled customers they’re getting briefer tastes of space with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic expects to receive paying passengers next year.
The Starship has yet to launch atop a Super Heavy booster from the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border. At 394 feet (120 meters) and 17 million pounds (7.7 million kilograms) of launch thrust, it is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. NASA already has a contract for a Starship to land its astronauts on the moon in about 2025, in the first lunar contact since Apollo.
Tito said the pair’s contract with SpaceX, signed in August 2021, includes an option to fly within five years from now. Tito would have been 87 years old by then and wanted out in case his health failed.
“But if I stayed in good health, I would wait 10 years,” he said.
Tito’s wife, 57, said she didn’t need any convincing. The Los Angeles natives are both pilots and understand the risks. They share Musk’s vision of a space future and believe that a married couple flying to the moon together will inspire others to do the same.
Tito, who sold his investment firm Wilshire Associates nearly two years ago, said he doesn’t feel guilty about going into space instead of spending the money here on Earth.
“We are retired and now it’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work,” he said.
Tito expects to also break down ageism, just as John Glenn’s space shuttle flight did in 1998. The first American to orbit the Earth still holds the record as the oldest person in orbit.
“He was only 77. He was just a young man,” Tito said. “I might end up being 10 years older than him”
The Associated Press Health and Science Section is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Division. AP is solely responsible for all content.