Fly me to the moon

Fancy taking a holiday that’s out of this world? Well, for the cool price of £100m, you just might be able to.

A British company is offering tourists the chance to go to the moon, with blast off taking place as early as 2015.

If the plan succeeds, it will make history as the first manned moon mission since Apollo 17 in 1972.

When American Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, making his famous “one small step for man” speech, no one could have imagined it would one day become a tourist destination.

But that is exactly what Excalibur Almaz has announced. At a space tourism meeting in London, the Isle of Man-based firm said it was ready to sell lunar trip tickets costing an estimated £100m per person.

Excalibur Almaz has acquired soviet shuttles and space stations for the expeditions, which CEO Art Dula has likened to the travels of early-day explorers.

Mr Dula described the trips as less “space tourism” and more “private expedition”.

His expeditions would follow those of Virgin boss Richard Branson who plans to send tourists out of the earth’s atmosphere in 2014.

But Mr Dula said his plans go further. “It’s exactly in the same vein as the historic exploration that was done by Europe and the British Isles over the last several centuries that resulted in so much growth,” he said.

The flight would last four months, flying past the moon at a distance of around 1,000km, and is open to anyone who can finance it.

Crew members would need to spend a year training before launching the shuttle from Kazakhstan and docking with a space station. Low-thrust engines would then ferry passengers through space.

Much of the operation would be carried out under computer-control, with four re-entry capsules, or re-usable return vehicles, taking three people at a time to the orbiting space station before returning them to earth.

The slow rate of travel, compared with rockets, should help combat any problems that arise, said Mr Dula. “With the kind of equipment we have you could make a decision overnight and sleep on it,” he explained.”

The move has been met with scepticism from experts. Dr Dave Parker from the UK Space Agency said he doubted a civilian could be trained to fly a spacecraft in the space of a year. He said: “What they are doing is trying to put together some pieces of existing technology from Russia with a few bits of new technology so that they can re-use it and they have been trying to develop this idea for a few years now.

“Obviously the reality is they do not have the investment to do any of this at the moment, but good luck to them, people have got to try things like this.”

Mr Dula hit back at critics, saying: “The EA fleet has previously flown to space several times and will undertake many more missions. It contains vessels of a design that has spent thousands of hours in space successfully. This is scientific fact, not fiction.”

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