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Consumer Reports

Company plans private moon mission | (UPI) -- A U.S. company said it has contracted to fly a private mission to the moon next year aboard a former Russian intercontinental ballistic missile that has been modified for commercial spaceflight.

The mission, which will include capturing detailed images of the lunar surface, also is intended to crash-land a capsule containing messages, business cards and cremated remains placed onboard for paying customers.

TransOrbital Inc. said its TrailBlazer craft is designed to be an inexpensive precursor to a variety of private space missions envisioned for the near future. Toward that end, the company has signed a $20 million contract with Kosmotras, a Russian-Ukrainian space firm that has been authorized to use decommissioned Soviet ICBMs.

TrailBlazer will be launched by the Dnepr-1 booster rocket, formerly the SS-18 missile, the world's largest, TransOrbital said in a statement. The launch, currently scheduled for October 2003, will take the spacecraft into low-Earth orbit, from which it will begin a trans-lunar injection burn that will send it to the moon in about four days.

After attaining an elliptical, 18-hour orbit around the moon, TrailBlazer will spend about three months capturing high-definition still and motion images of the lunar surface.

"A specially hardened time capsule in TrailBlazer containing messages and memorabilia will remain on the moon's surface as a permanent message to the future," the company's statement said. The paid messages can be of varying lengths, beginning with 300 characters, maximum, of text for $16.95. Customers can opt to send their business cards -- at $2,500 each -- to the moon's surface, as well as "personal relics, mementos or treasures" for $2,500 per gram, TransOrbital said.

Kosmotras plans to test-burn the Dnepr launch vehicle next month at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"Elimination of the SS-18 (by 2007) has attracted additional attention of potential customers to the Dnepr Program," the company said.

The liquid-fueled Dnepr rocket, which has been launched successfully 159 times, is 3 meters in diameter, 34.3 meters in length, and weighs 211 tons at launch.

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