Fly Me to the Moon

Suborbital hops into space and back not enough of an adrenaline surge? Bored with flying in circles aboard the space station? Clearly, you are a discerning traveler who can be satisfied with nothing less than the most unique experience.

Or maybe you’re just a gold-plated pain in the @$$. If you’ve got the money, it don’t matter.

So how about a trip to the Moon? If that doesn’t light you up, then you must be dead. And please, hold the “no, but I’d be dead by the end of the trip” jokes to yourself, thankyouverymuch.

As with suborbital passenger hops, two companies are vying to offer different variations of the same amazing journey. In this case, each wants to be the first to send paying passengers around the Moon.

IRONY ALERT! Forty-three years after the US won that race, both plan to return by using – wait for it – Russian spacecraft.

Soyuz was originally intended to be the Soviet’s moonship, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think it’s still up to the task after 40 years of production and design improvements. It’ll require a better heat shield, life support, and nav/com, but these likewise have the benefit of 40+ years experience.

First up, let us dispense with what I believe to be the dark horse in this race: Excalibur Almaz. They’ve essentially salvaged 1980’s Russian military space station hardware to spiff up, attach to an Earth-departure booster, and put into lunar orbit. It would be reusable, as would the re-entry vehicles they bought to service it.

Hey, I didn’t make it up – that’s what they said. If they can pull it off, great. The idea of a small space-station-sized passenger vessel that regularly transits between Earth and Moon is a terrific idea. Heck, it might even make for a really good book.

The catch? Ion propulsion. Not only is their trans-lunar injection (TLI) stage based on technology that’s not really off-the-shelf ready yet, the low thrust means a long orbit – like six months round trip. It would actually take its passengers farther away from Earth than any other humans have ever been, according to their own information.

Now I’m all about traveling the scenic routes, but there ain’t that much to see on the way to the moon unless you’re pointed right at the thing. That’s an awfully long time to be cooped up in something the size of a school bus, eating freeze-dried food and inhaling your shipmate’s farts.

And did I mention this experience can all be yours for only $150 million?

Now for the one that I take more seriously: Space Adventures. This is the same outfit that’s arranged for several trips into orbit on Soyuz, including week-long stays at the International Space Station. They’ve long since learned how to suppress the giggle factor amongst the nonbelievers, and seem to have this jaunt planned out fairly well. To my layman’s eyes, it looks like a recreation of the original plans to send a crewed Soyuz into lunar orbit. Considering the price tag and exclusive clientele, they’ve also seen fit to purchase an extra hab module which will go up with the TLI stage. I would imagine it’ll work out to one pax in each module, with the pilot in the other. Which will probably work just fine for a 10-day trip, because this one uses good old-fashioned chemical rockets.

One seat has already been sold, supposedly to filmmaker James Cameron. And if I had that kind of money, I’d be right behind him in the ticket line.

Did I mention someone ought to write a book about this?

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