The long-standing science fiction dream of going to the Moon for a vacation looks set to become a reality thanks to a new start-up company and its refurbished Russian hardware. Of course, what a lunar trip may lack in atmosphere, it’ll make up for in prestige: The package will cost $100 million, ensuring that you’re unlikely to run into everyone you know during your extra-terrestrial getaway.
Of course, Excalibur Almaz, a Houston, Texas based company, isn’t actually offering the opportunity to follow in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps and walk on the moon – the company’s vacation deal will only take you as far as lunar orbit, where you’ll spend a few days on board a space station spinning around the moon before coming back down to Earth (literally). Before that, you’ll have spent time in a special training camp that will not only include a flight on the XCOR Lynx suborbital spaceplane to get you used to zero gravity situations, but also a crash course in learning to fly a spacecraft, just in case something happens to your pilot and you want to avoid an actual crash during your trip.
If you’re wondering how founder Art Dula, who has an impressive three-decade history in the space business, made all this happen, the answer is surprisingly simple: He has a good eye for a bargain. The company’s spacecraft are all former Soviet craft that Dula purchased years ago and has had refit for commercial usage. According to the company’s official website, the craft – four Reusable Reentry Vehicles (None of which have ever been flown manned; for the purposes of EA’s business plan, each one will seat three people) and two “large Salyut-Class Spacecraft… equivalent to the Russian Mir core or the International Space Station (ISS) Zarya module” – have been “tested and possess a history of reliability.” Should you find yourself less than comforted about the age of the hardware, you shouldn’t; the Soviet space program is still using refurbished hardware of the same age or older with little to no difficulty, and the modern refurbishment has included modern solar arrays, environmental and flight controls, as well as thrusters and communications equipment. The company has also contracted with EADS Astrium to create a new intermediate propulsion stage, and has agreed to meet with US space agency standards before launch.
The Excalibur Almaz site describes the company’s goal as “lunar exploration libration point missions, asteroid mining and other long term business in space,” which sounds much more noble than “vacations in space,” let’s be honest. But, according to the company, the latter option has come up as much from consumer demand and the costliness of lower orbit missions for scientific research. And let’s be honest: Even with the hefty price tag – and $100 million is a lot of money – you’re still finding yourself very tempted by the option, aren’t you?