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SpaceX: Why tourists will make a tour of the moon but not touch down

This artist's illustration courtesy of SpaceX of BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) travelling sround the moon. (Photo by HO / SPACEX / AFP) /

Elon Musk has promised to send the Japanese millionaire Yusaku Maezawa and six to eight artists around the Moon.  Like lots of astronauts before them, they won’t be touching down and setting foot on the moon’s surface. But why?

Between the end of the 1960s and start of the 1970s, only 12 people have had the privilege of treading on the moon’s surface.  But how did these moon landings take place?   Put simply, a rocket transported three people in the direction of the Moon but without landing.  Instead of the rocket landing a lighter spacecraft detaches itself with two of the passengers on board.  These two people land on the moon and carry out their operations then  take off so that they can be picked up by the third astronaut that is still in space.  Everyone then makes their way back to Earth.

Why is there so many steps in this process? First off it is too expensive to design and construct a rocket that is capable of reaching the Moon, then land and take off again so that it can make it’s way back to Earth while ensuring the safety of the passengers on board! The operation also involved many technical challenges.  At the time, the Americans were in a hurry to compete with the USSR.  A lot has happened since and aerospace technology has seen many advances.  So what prevents SpaceX taking tourists directly to the Moon’s surface today?

On paper, not an awful lot…  Nevertheless the design and construction of a lunar lander are completely different from the design of a launcher propelling tourists around the moon. Construction costs would be extremely significant and in the end it was never Elon Musk’s goal to let tourist set foot on the Moon.

In addition, the former NASA spacecraft could only transport two passengers to the moon. These passengers were two trained and well versed astronauts, capable of responding to any potential technical problems that could arise. Although tourists will have to undertake a course before setting off, it is of course out of the question that they will be left own their own to land the spacecraft on the moon.  Astronauts must be present to fix any potential issues. This would mean more place, therefore meaning lots more money.  Once more it was never Elon Musk’s idea to take people to the moon.

Yusaku Maezawa and his team of artists will have to settle for an extraordinary view of the Moon.  Between us, that is pretty awesome!

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