The company that pioneered commercial space travel by sending 'tourists' up to the International Space Station is planning a new mission: rocketting people around the far side of the moon.
The price of a round-trip ticket: $100 million.
The first mission by Space Adventures could happen in 2008 or 2009 and is planned as a stepping stone to an eventual lunar landing by private citizens.
"For the first time in history, a private company is organising a mission to the moon," Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson said at a Manhattan news conference Wednesday, a day after space shuttle Discovery safely returned to Earth. "This mission will inspire countries of the world, citizens, our youth."
Anderson said he already has prospective "private explorers" who are interested in the trip and could afford the ticket.
The initial travelers would be the first to orbit the moon in more than 33 years, according to the Arlington, Va., company. Only 27 people have ever made such a journey.
The trip, aboard a modified Russian spacecraft, will offer the chance to see the Earth rise from lunar orbit and a view of the far side of the moon from an altitude of 62 miles.
The far side of the moon has a special appeal, Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview, because it takes most of the hits from asteroids, meteorites and other objects from deep space. That results in many more craters than on the side seen from Earth.
"It's much more interesting to look at than the near side," he said, adding that the lunar orbits will be done when the far side is illuminated by the sun.
Space Adventures plans to offer multiple trip itineraries aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA spacecraft. One possibility is a 5 1/2-day lunar flight and up to 21 days at the International Space Station; another is a nine-day mission with three days of free flight in low-Earth orbit and the rest flying around the moon. In both cases, the spacecraft would dock with a booster, carried up by a separate launch vehicle, to propel it to the moon.
The Soyuz was originally designed for lunar missions, although none ever occurred. Anderson called it the most reliable craft in the history of space travel.
It has 10 cubic meters of crew space, about the size of a large SUV. The cosmonaut and two passengers will sleep in reclining chairs, said Nikolai Sevastyanov, president of rocket maker Rocket and Space Corporation Energia.
Space Adventures has a partnership with the rocket maker and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation, through which they have sent American businessman Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth on a Soyuz for stays on the space station.
The next mission is slated to send a team up to the space station for 10 days starting October 1. One of the crew members is Gregory Olsen, a New Jersey scientist who has been training for the mission in Russia on and off since 2004.
"Who wouldn't want to go to the moon?" said Olsen, 60, a surprise guest at the news conference. "I'm really interested, but one flight at a time."
Modifications to the Soyuz will include altering its docking system and installing an 18-inch window so passengers can take high-resolution photos of the lunar surface.