82-year-old books flight to the moon after paying $20m to visit ISS in 2001

You’re never too old, or apparently too wealthy, to try something new.

Dennis Tito, 82, paid a whopping $20 million (£18 million) back in 2001 to become the first ever ‘space tourist’ aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Now, he’s doing it again. The engineer and entrepreneur has booked a trip around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company.

These so-called ‘moonshots’ are expected to become big business in the private space industry in the years to come. And even though Tito’s flight may not arrive for another five years, the octogenarian still says he can see it through.

He’s not actually the first to tap Musk 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.

And while Tito could probably hop on a flight with rival space company Blue Origin much sooner, he said he wasn’t interested in a short-haul trip to suborbital space.

He wants to go to the moon.

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‘We have to keep healthy for as many years as it’s going to take for SpaceX to complete this vehicle,’ Tito said in an interview this week with The Associated Press.

‘I might be sitting in a rocking chair, not doing any good exercise, if it wasn’t for this mission.’

The weeklong moonshot — the actual date is to be determined but will be years in the future — will bring him within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the far side of the moon.

Tito, who worked for Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Labratory in the 1960s hasn’t revealed how much the contract with SpaceX has cost him.

But he will be bringing along his wife Akiki, 57, along for the ride and will likely be joined by 10 others when the time comes.

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 did not 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.

Well-heeled customers are sampling briefer tastes of space with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic expects to take paying passengers next year.

Meanwhile, the craft that will take them around the moon – SpaceX’s Starship – has yet to launch atop a Super Heavy booster from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border.

At 394 feet and 17 million pounds of lift-off thrust, it is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built. Nasa has already 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, 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.

‘But if I stayed in good health, I’d wait 10 years,’ he said.

Akiki said she needed no persuading. The Los Angeles residents are both pilots and understand the risks.

They share Elon Musk’s vision of a spacefaring future and believe a married couple flying together to the moon will inspire others to do the same.

Tito, who sold his investment company Wilshire Associates almost two years ago, said he does not feel guilty splurging on spaceflight versus spending the money here on Earth.

‘We’re retired and now it’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work,’ he said.

Tito expects he will also shatter preconceived notions about age, much as John Glenn’s space shuttle flight did in 1998.

The first American to orbit the Earth still holds the record as the oldest person in orbit.

‘He was only 77. He was just a young man,’ Tito said. ‘I might end up being 10 years older than him.’

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