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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Firm Signs Up for a Trip to the Moon

A California company on Tuesday signed a $20 million deal with a Moscow-based rocket company to fly the world's first private mission to the moon next year. The unmanned vehicle would take pictures and deliver messages and cremated remains.

TransOrbital, Inc. of La Jolla, California, signed the contract with the International Space Company Kosmotras, which was authorized by the Russian government to use decommissioned Soviet-built ballistic missiles for commercial space launches.

Kosmotras, a joint venture between Russia and Ukraine, plans to test-launch a replica of TransOrbital's space vehicle into an orbit around the Earth next month and then send the real spacecraft on a trip to the moon in October, TransOrbital's president, Dennis Laurie, said at a news conference.

The space vehicle, called the TrailBlazer, would orbit the moon for about three months, taking high-resolution pictures of its surface before crashing onto its surface. Private messages, cremated remains and other commercial cargo will be carried in a capsule designed to survive the crash, Laurie said.

TransOrbital said the company hopes to fly regular missions to the moon.

"We are very excited about ... going to the moon on a regular basis," Laurie said. He added that the company already has "thousands" of orders for the delivery of jewelry, business cards and cremated remains to the moon's surface.

"Most of them who want us to take the cremated remains like the idea of seeing their relatives on a nightly basis," Laurie said.