For the past several years, the Russians, in partnership with an American company called Space Adventures, have been working on a flight of a modified Soyuz that would occur beyond low Earth orbit, looping around the moon, before heading back to Earth. The same partnership has taken a number of paying customers, including computer game tycoon Richard Garriott and Iranian-American businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, to the International Space Station.

The Russian news agency Sputnik reports that eight possible private customers have expressed interest in paying $150 million each for the voyage of a lifetime.

The idea is that a Soyuz, which was once part of the Soviet Union’s lunar program, would be blasted out of low Earth orbit on a free return trajectory, passing around the moon, before heading back for a landing back on Earth. The flight would be the first instance when humans have flown beyond low Earth orbit since the mission of Apollo 17 in 1972.

It would be the first private crewed flight beyond LEO ever.

By contrast, NASA is planning its first flight beyond LEO in 50 years with an Orion launched from a heavy lift Space Launch System in the 2021-23 timeframe.

Film director James Cameron and an unnamed Japanese family are said to be among the potential cis-lunar passengers. No word is available as to how serious the eight potential customers are about making the monetary and time commitment to making the flight.

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Cameron, for example, is currently working on a number of sequels to his hit film, “Avatar,” and might not want to step away from that project to fly to the moon.

The lunar voyage would provide a shot in the arm, both in money and prestige, that the Russian space effort needs. Russia has a lot of space ambitions, including a lunar landing, something that it failed to do during the 1960s moon race.

However, Russia lacks the money to make that dream become a reality. It has even started to cut back its participation in the International Space Station.

Mounting a voyage around the moon, paid for by the well-heeled and adventurous, would also give Russia experience in operations beyond low Earth orbit, which would be useful for its own lunar efforts if and when it can undertake them.

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