Long Before SpaceX, Pan Am Was Booking Flights to the Moon 

HUMANITIES, Fall 2022, Volume 43, Number 4

In 1964, at the height of the Space Race, a journalist walked into a travel agency in Vienna and asked to book a flight to the moon. The eccentric request found its way to Pan American Airways, whose executives took the reservation and spun the demand into a golden marketing opportunity. Inspired by this forward-looking traveler, the airline launched its “First Moon Flights” Club in 1968, inviting customers to book spots on their future lunar routes. (Projected start date: the year 2000.) 

After joining the flight club, participants received a membership card like the one shown here, held by the NEH-supported Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. On the front, the card noted the member’s name and number. On the back, it displayed a drawing of a Pan Am Space Clipper in flight. The airline processed around 93,000 cost-free memberships between 1968 and 1971, when it stopped taking reservations due to administrative and financial strain. According to a Los Angeles Times report on the program, inductees included famed broadcaster Walter Cronkite. 

The “First Moon Flights” Club was labeled by many a publicity stunt, but Pan Am representatives maintained well into the 1980s that it was a genuine program, insisting the airline would honor its bookings and that viable commercial space travel was imminent. Pan Am would ultimately fail to make good on its promise—the airline declared bankruptcy in 1991—but its employees were not wrong to believe that space tourism was soon to become a reality. In the past few decades, companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Space Perspective have picked up where the airline left off. A single ticket for a six-hour flight costs $125,000, but tourists who are able to afford the hefty price tag can now experience the wonders of space travel firsthand.