(Picture credit – SpaceX, Elon Musk Twitter feed)
One small step for man, one giant leap for imagination
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) 17 september 2018
Another small step for man
45 years, 9 months, and 16 days ago the last crew that spent three days on the Moon during the Apollo 17 mission left for Earth in December 1972. Today SpaceX has officially announced the name of the first 21st century man who will go on a Moon Mission during a live webcast.
It is a momentous occasion in space history that brings to end a hiatus, an absence of man in lunar space, that lasted longer than anyone who was alive in the Apollo era could ever imagine. If everything had gone to plan, we would have had a large base on the Moon and the first man on Mars in 1990, thirty years ago.
But we will have to wait a couple more years. The vehicle our intrepid tourist will use is not yet built. Most of its parts are still drawings on a computer, or pieces of hardware that need to undergo prototyping, construction and hardware testing. Hopping tests will start in 2019, and high altitude, high velocity tests should follow in 2020, with unmanned orbital tests in 2 to 3 years to ensure vehicle safety. But it is only in 2023, five years from now, when the tourist can make his grand voyage.
Still, shortly before the announcement, SpaceX started revealing some intriguing glimpses of what the final Moon Capable vehicle will look like.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) 17 september 2018
Compared to last years design, we see the addition of a large vertical fin and wings that have increased in size, potentially housing a landing gear.
And then, in the evening, Elon Musk presented a new updated version of his rocket in a press conference, revealing the name of the first tourist.
If I would not know any better, the mold line of this version of the BFR could have been designed by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, who sent Captain Haddock, Tintin, his dog Snowy, Professor Calculus, and Thomson and Thompson aboard humanity’s first manned rocket mission to the Moon in ‘Explorers on the Moon’ published in Tintin magazine from 1952 to 1953. He too equipped his tall standing rocket with a three foot landing gear doubling as wings, a popular concept at the time.
When asked during the Press conference Q&A it was no surprise when Elon quipped: “…I think it is the right decision overall. I think it looks beautiful and I love the Tintin rocket design so I kind of wanted to bias it towards that”.
But as Elon Musk explained, to have a vehicle capable of entering a host of planetary atmospheres, be it Earth, Mars, Titan or Venus, it helps to have these novel hinged wings, and the forward wings (canard wings) as control devices. In Elon’s words, the large vertical only serves as a third landing leg, making its presence and the way the entire vehicle is controlled somewhat counter intuitive, more akin to how a terrestrial sky diver would control his trajectory.
The BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket project, originally announced in 2016, will be capable of launching 150 mton to LEO when it is ready; which translates into a capability to send up to 100 individuals around the Moon. In later iterations, when a fleet of at least 2 BFR’s become available, vehicles will also be able to refuel each other. This extra propellant allows the other vehicle to have enough propellant to land on the Moon, spend some time there and return safely to Earth, crashing into the atmosphere and relying on its heat shield to not burn to a crisp.
The first tourist is a brave man nevertheless. His entry in the history books comes at the price of being the first to risk his !&$&”^p! on a vehicle whose reliability has not yet been proven.
Elon admitted he thinks the tourist “to be the bravest person and most willing to do so. And he was the best adventurer I think. He stepped forward to do it. To be clear this is really, you know, we are honored that he would choose us. This is not us choosing him.”
“He’s a very brave person to do this, and because he is paying a lot of money, we are not disclosing the amount, but he is paying a lot of money that will help with the development of the ship and booster… and ultimately, you know, this system, this BFR system is intended to be able to carry anyone to orbit and to the Moon and to Mars… and so he is ultimately helping to pay for the average citizen to be able to travel to other planets. It is a great thing.”
And in a word of caution “…to be clear… this is dangerous…this is not a walk in the park…. when you are pushing the frontier, it is not a sure thing”. And this is of course the reason why, while BFR is able to receive 100 passengers, it will do the first mission around the moon with a relatively small crew.
And, here he is:
What we know about the candidate
- Name and Nationality: Yusaku Maezawa, Japanese
- Residence: Chiba Prefecture, Japan
- Age: 42, born 22 November 1975.
- Bio: Successful entrepreneur, e-commerce billionaire, ex-drummer and maecenas of the arts. He founded Start Today in 1998 and launched the online fashion retail website Zozotown, Japan’s largest, in 2004. Most recently, Maezawa introduced a custom-fit apparel brand ZOZO (zozo.com). Net worth USD, 3.5 Billion (Forbes).
- Creativity and artistic expression is very much at the core of his personality.
The right stuff: what is it anyway?
For decades the world came to believe that astronauts were brilliant superhumans, a rare breed endowed with genius level mathematical skills, the eagle eyes and calm bravery of a test pilot, the reserved pose of a country boy, the aptitude of a team player, and the swagger of a man who knows he has just written history. The story goes that only the best ambassadors of humanity are sent, heroes to children and men alike.
Personally, I have always believed that all of humanity has the right stuff to go to space, but our first lunar tourist has an even more beautiful idea.
Because Yusaku Maezawa is able to pay for an entire mission, and does not want to go alone, he decided that the time has come for artists to visit the Moon.
Mentioning some of his artistic heroes like Basquiat, Picasso, and others, Maezawa hopes that a new generation of artists, can help humanity to appreciate the beauty of our closest neighbor, that Moon that were it anywhere else in the solar system, could have been called a planet. He wants artists to describe their experiences on a trip around the Moon and share it with all of us.
Yusaku Maezawa is no stranger to financially support artists, or invest in artwork. In May 2017 he broke a record by paying $110.5 million at an auction for a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Over the years he spent a multiple of that amount on artworks by other famous artists. He also is the founder of the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation, which he started in 2012 with a goal of “supporting young artists as a pillar of the next generation of contemporary art.”(*)
In a project he baptized “Dear Moon” (https://dearmoon.earth), he wants six to eight world renowned artists to join him on the historical trip. They have not yet been selected for the trip planned to take place in 2023, but in his own words they could be “painters, photographers, musicians, fashion designers, film directors, architects, etc.”
To send artists would have lunar exploration come full circle. It were artists and dreamers who imagined man walking on the Moon, inspiring countless generations to wonder if such a thing is at all possible, and how? And now that two generations have answered the call to rise to that challenge, artists can finally reclaim their place; not yet to take another small step, but another giant leap in imagination, and help us find the first crumbs on a trail to where the next challenge could lie; that next beautiful goal that will inspire humanity for the next thousand generations.
Click below for the entire webcast:
And…you might want to watch the press conference till the end. When asked by a reported if Elon would go to space and when, an emotional Elon answered that having Yusaku Maezawa fund this mission and donating seats has done a lot to restore his faith in humanity. “And as far as me going, I am not sure…he did suggest like maybe that I should join on this trip….I don’t know…” – “Yeah, yeah, yeah, please do“, Maezawa quickly interjected, encouraging Elon to join. – “Alright, maybe we’ll both be on it.” … “I am super fired up. This is going to be great.”
The Moon inspired many mythical tales, religious stories and folklore which took root in our shared culture. It inspired humanity to figure out the relationship between sunlight and darkness, geometry and earth, the macro- and microcosm, space and time, apples and gravity. But even sharper thinkers also explained why there is a rabbit living on it, or why it seems to have a big inviting smile and occasionally a rocket in its eye.
(*) “Contemporary Art Foundation (Public Interest Corporation)”. Contemporary Art Foundation. Retrieved 18 May 2016.