SpaceX has announced plans to fly two people around the moon in the second half of 2018. The people in question are private citizens, not astronauts, who approached SpaceX, and have already placed deposits for the mission. The flight would take roughly a week, use the Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket, with a planned trajectory which would skim the surface of the moon and fly a little further into deep space before returning to earth.
You can read a very good, detailed article on the SpaceX plans here, at The Verge.
The following is my own brief summary of three key points, each coloured by my own opinion:
- This is just one step in a process. Flights of the Crew Dragon to the ISS, both without and then with crew, are planned before the moon-orbit mission. This moon orbit could itself be a stepping stone toward establishing a base on the moon, and sending humans to Mars.
- One is left with the distinct impression that it is SpaceX, and in particular the vision of its founder, Elon Musk, which is now driving the space race. While technical challenges (such as explosions) have delayed progress, Musk has driven development forward through hard work and determination, technical expertise, an ability to harness public excitement through the articulation of clear goals, and backing it up by actually achieving these goals, such as landing and reusing rockets.
- Following from this, it appears that bureaucratic necessity may be more of an obstacle than the technical challenges. For now, Musk still has to play by the rules set by NASA and US regulators, and he appears to be deferring to NASA as much as he has to. If ever SpaceX sustainably establishes itself off-planet, all bets are off.
It’s your XYZ.