The world's first space tourist wants to go back - but this time, he’s signed up for a ride around the Moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship.
For Dennis Tito, 82, it’s a chance to relive the joy of his trip to the International Space Station (ISS), now that he's retired with time on his hands.
The engineer turned financial analyst was the first private individual to pay for a trip to space on Russia's Soyuz TM-32 mission in 2001, when he spent nearly eight days aboard the ISS.
His week-long journey on the SpaceX flight will bring him within 200 km of the Moon without landing on its surface. He'll have company: his wife, Akiko, and 10 others willing to shell out big bucks for the ride.
Tito won’t say how much he’s paying for his spin around the Moon; his ISS trip cost $20 million (€20.5 million).
SpaceX has not given a date for the launch of Starship, the focus of Musk's ambition to transport humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars.
However, the world's richest person and CEO of Tesla has said he aims to send the rocket to orbit for the first time as early as next month.
A handful of companies including SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic hope to make space travel a reality, while Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin currently offers sub-orbital joyrides some 100 km above Earth.
Who wants to be the next billionaire on the Moon?
Tito is actually the second billionaire to make a Starship reservation for a flight around the Moon.
Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018 he was buying an entire flight so he could take eight or so others with him, preferably artists.
The two men both flew to the space station, from Kazakhstan atop Russian rockets, 20 years apart.
Tito kicked off space tourism in 2001, becoming the first person to pay his own way to space and antagonising NASA in the process.
The US space agency didn’t want a sightseer hanging around while the station was being built. But the Russian Space Agency needed the cash and, with the help of US-based Space Adventures, launched a string of wealthy clients to the station through the 2000s and, just a year ago, Maezawa.
Biggest rocket ever
Tito and his wife recognise there's a lot of testing and development still ahead for Starship, a shiny, bullet-shaped behemoth that's yet to even attempt to reach space.
“We have to keep healthy for as many years as it’s going to take for SpaceX to complete this vehicle,” Tito told The Associated Press.
“I might be sitting in a rocking chair, not doing any good exercise, if it wasn’t for this mission”.
Starship has yet to launch atop a Super Heavy booster from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border.
At 120 metres and 7.7 million kg of liftoff thrust, it's the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built. NASA already has contracted for a Starship to land its astronauts on the Moon in 2025 or so, in the first lunar touchdown since Apollo.
Tito said the couple’s contract with SpaceX, signed in August 2021 and announced on Wednesday (October 12), includes an option for a flight within five years from now.
Tito would be 87 by then and he wanted an out in case his health falters.