Russia's federal space agency took a giant leap in the field of cosmic tourism yesterday with the announcement it will offer a $100m (?57m) trip to the moon.
Roskosmos leaked details of the project as Nasa's space shuttle Discovery prepared for launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. A source at the Russian agency confirmed to the Guardian that the technology was in place for a flight to be launched within 18 months of a down payment.
The fortnight-long trip would include a week at the International Space Station (ISS) before blasting off to the moon and completing a full orbit 100 miles above its surface.
The only two space tourists so far, American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth, got no further than the ISS for $20m each and no Russian cosmonaut has ever orbited the moon.
A single tourist accompanied by one astronaut could go on each trip in a modified Soyuz-TMA capsule to be launched from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
"The tourist would go up in that capsule and spend the first week on the ISS," said the Roskosmos source. "Then a powerful booster like Proton would be launched from Earth with an accelerator block to dock with the craft at the space station."
That accelerator block - basically, an engine with fuel tanks - would then be used to propel the spacecraft towards the moon.
The Soviet Union sent the first unmanned probe to land on the moon in 1959. It came close to launching a manned flight to the moon but dropped its programme when the Americans got there first a decade later.
Space tourists will not land on its surface but will circle its dark side and orbit close enough to examine its cratered lunar crust. They would live in two cramped modules about three metres across and eat biscuits and food in tubes.
Any candidate for the expedition would have to undergo several months of intensive training at Star City near Moscow.