John Schwartz got the drop on me at the New York Times, but even he’s missing the big picture. For now.

Check this out.

Space Adventures announced yesterday that they’ve cut a deal with the Russian Space Agency to return people to the moon by 2010. It’ll be the first manned Russian ship to reach the moon, and it’ll be funded by two space tourists each paying $100 million. A Soyuz spaceship carrying a professional Russian cosmonaut and the two tourists will enter lunar orbit and then return to Earth without landing, just like NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968.

Most of the hardware to accomplish this already exists, and once the two tourists can be found (which I have no doubt they will be), the funding will be there. This is going to happen. Absolutely. And if it goes well, landings will be next.

Meanwhile, NASA’s own plans to return to the moon depend on fabulously expensive new hardware that has yet to be designed, let alone built, and which won’t be ready for lunar flights until at least 2018.

This second moon race will have an entirely different outcome from the first. But we’ll all be the winners here, as private citizens push outward into the final frontier and blaze a trail for the rest of us.