Private company plans to send space tourists to the moon

7 Dec 2012

A new space company called Golden Spike, which has been launched by a team of former NASA executives, is on a mission to start taking people to the moon – potentially by 2020 – but it will cost around US$750m per person.

The company, which was founded in 2010 and is headquartered in Colorado, is headed up by former NASA executives, including its Gerry Griffin, a former Apollo flight director and former director of NASA Johnson Space Center; and Alan Stern, a former head of NASA science missions.

Golden Spike’s estimates that the cost for a two-person mission to the moon will start at $1.4bn.

Griffin and Stern announced details of the company and its plans to offer regular expeditions to the moon at a press conference in Washington, DC, yesterday. Rather aptly, they announced Golden Spike’s plans on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon. NASA launched Apollo 17 on 7 December 1972.

As for Golden Spike it has managed to amass an impressive team of board members that includes the venture capitalist Esther Dyson; the propulsion and space systems expert James French; and the spacecraft systems engineer David Lackner.

The company’s plan is to make use of existing rockets and to market the resulting system to nations, individuals and corporations with lunar exploration objectives.

Stern and Griffin said that the company has spent two year on its “head start” architecture that has been vetted by experts, including former space shuttle commander Jeffrey Ashby and Peter Banks, a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Golden Spike has also been working with aerospace companies on designs for the lunar lander as well as lunar space suits.

Based on its market research the company is entertaining the possibility of running between 15 and 20 expeditions to the moon in the decade following the first landing.

“We could not be able to do this without the many breakthroughs NASA made in inventing Apollo, the Shuttle, the International Space Station, and its recent efforts to foster commercial spaceflight,” said Golden Spike board chairman Griffin. “Building on those achievements, The Golden Spike Company is ready to enable a global wave of explorers to the lunar frontier.”

NASA has given a positive reaction to Golden Spike’s news.

“This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration’s overall space policy — to create an environment where commercial space companies can build upon NASA’s past successes, allowing the agency to focus on the new challenges of sending humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars,” said NASA spokesperson David Weaver in a statement.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic