SpaceX says it will fly two people to the moon next year, a feat not attempted since NASA's Apollo heyday close to half a century ago, the AP reports. Tech billionaire Elon Musk—the company's founder—announced the surprising news Monday. Two people who know one another approached the company about sending them on a weeklong flight just beyond the moon, according to Musk. He won't identify the pair or the price tag. They've already paid a "significant" deposit, he noted. Musk said SpaceX is on track to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in mid-2018. This moon mission would follow about six months later, by the end of the year under the current schedule, using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon heavy rocket. The moon mission is designed to be autonomous—unless something goes wrong, Musk said.
"I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here," Musk told reporters in a telephone news conference, a day after teasing via Twitter that an announcement of some sort was forthcoming. "They're certainly not naive, and we'll do everything we can to minimize that risk, but it's not zero. But they're coming into this with their eyes open," said Musk, adding that the pair will receive "extensive" training before the flight. Musk said he does not have permission to release the passengers' names, and he was hesitant to even say if they were men, women, or even pilots. He would only admit, "It's nobody from Hollywood." The passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond, perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 miles distance altogether. The mission won't involve a lunar landing, according to Musk. Click for more details. (Read more SpaceX stories.)