Dennis Tito, a former aerospace engineer who later became a financial analyst, booked a trip for himself and his wife on SpaceX’s Starship. The trip will take them around the Moon.
Tito is best known for being the first private citizen to become a “space tourist.” He paid Russia $20 million for a flight to the International Space Station in 2001. The deal caused concern about Russia sending untrained “tourists” to the ISS until Tito agreed to pay for any damage he caused.
It would be natural to wonder if the trip around the Moon will ever happen. Tito is currently 82 years old. SpaceX has not even conducted a planned orbital test yet, though it would be easy to blame that on the FAA being the futz who is holding things up.
If the trip around the Moon goes through, it could carry as many as ten other as-yet-unnamed passengers. Tito’s trip could be the second fully private trip around the Moon with passengers on board, after Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa’s “dearMoon” flight. The dearMoon flight was originally slated to occur as early as 2023, though it is likely to get pushed back due to delays in Starship testing.
While waiting, Yusaku Maezawa followed in Dennis Tito’s footsteps by going on a 12-day, privately funded trip to the International Space Station.
Tito did not disclose how much he might end up paying for the two seats. In an interview with CBS, he expressed enthusiasm about being among the first people to get a view of Earth from as far out as the Moon since NASA’s Apollo Program ended.
“We will be literally out of this world,” he said.
He sounded unworried about the challenges that a senior citizen might face during a multi-day space mission, mentioning that he had been focused on staying in shape since his 2001 trip to the ISS.
“I’ve taken up weightlifting in a serious way. And I wasn’t able then to manage the kind of weight I can manage now. So I think I’m in better shape,” he told CBS.
His wife, Akiko Tito, is a pilot and also trains for fitness competitions. She has a degree in economics and experience working on Wall Street. She married Dennis Tito in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and joked about the flight around the Moon being a possible belated honeymoon.
The Starship stack will include a “Super Heavy” first stage booster capable of producing 16 million tons of thrust with a cluster of 33 Raptor engines. This is twice as much as NASA’s SLS booster. The Starship upper stage includes six Raptor engines and will be able to execute “tail-first” landings. SpaceX is currently working on a version of Starship that can land on the Moon like some of the “lunar landing rockets” that graced science fiction covers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Both stages will be fully reusable as part of SpaceX’s efforts to bring the cost of spaceflight down. Organizations that are interested in sending hardware into Earth orbit can already save money by opting for a previously flown Falcon 9 booster. SpaceX aims to use reusable SpaceX to make crewed journeys to the Moon and Mars more affordable (if not necessarily as cheap as buying a plane ticket).