Elon Musk unveils a spacecraft like one that his SpaceX company plans to fly around the moon in 2018. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

SpaceX said this week that it will fly two people to the moon next year, a feat not attempted since NASA’s Apollo heyday close to half a century ago.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, announced the surprising news Monday, barely a week after launching his first rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Two people who know each other approached the company about sending them on a week-long flight just beyond the moon, Musk said. He won’t identify the pair or the price. They’ve paid a “significant” deposit and are “very serious” about it, he noted.

“Fly me to the moon . . . OK,” Musk said in a lighthearted tweet following the news conference.

Musk said SpaceX is on track to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in mid-2018. The moon mission — which does not include a lunar landing — would follow about six months later using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon Heavy rocket launched from NASA’s former moon pad in Florida.

If all goes as planned, the mission may happen close to the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first manned flight to the moon, on Apollo 8.

The two people who asked to be shot into space know that there are risks connected with the journey.

“They’re certainly not naive, and we’ll do everything we can to minimize that risk, but it’s not zero. But they’re coming into this with their eyes open,” said Musk, adding that the pair will receive “extensive” training before the flight.

The paying passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond, perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 miles altogether. It’s about 240,000 miles to the moon alone, one way.

“This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really excited about sending people into deep space again,” Musk said.

— Associated Press