Mane Engineering Issue 6 - March 2017 - Page 6

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lon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, recently announced company plans to send two private citizens on a flight around the Moon in 2018. The two citizens have

already paid a significant deposit for the trip, although figures have not been released, and will begin training and testing later this year.

The crew of two will be settled inside SpaceX's Dragon 2 spacecraft and will launch using SpaceX's new Falcon Heavy rocket*. The Dragon 2 spacecraft will commence operation when it sends crew to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is currently contracted to perform four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year. Meanwhile, the Falcon Heavy rocket will begin testing this summer. The Falcon Heavy is a variation of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

The planned lunar trip will last approximately one week with an initial entry into lunar orbit estimated to take two to three days. The spacecraft will not touch the surface of the Moon, but will rather "skim the surface", according to Musk. It was not announced how many orbits the crew will make around the Moon, but it is believed to be about as many as the Apollo 8 astronauts did. In 1968, the Apollo 8 crew went around the Moon 10 times before beginning the journey back to Earth.

Americans last visited the Moon in 1972 and there are no solid plans in place for NASA to return to the Moon. Unlike NASA, SpaceX is not a government agency - it's a private company with several ambitious goals that include plans for manned missions beyond the Moon and into deep space.

Whether SpaceX will be able to meet their

goal of sending a manned spacecraft to the Moon in 2018 remains to be seen, but there are some who are skeptical that the mission will happen next year. Wayne Hale, a former manager of NASA's space shuttle program told Space.com, "I think their schedule is so aggressive as to not be believable. I wish them the best of luck, and I certainly hope they succeed, but as a taxpayer, I'm glad there's no tax money involved in this."

*SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Infographic - Click here. (Space.com)

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