Technology Review – Today (Thursday), at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., a company called Golden Spike is scheduled to announce its intention to organize manned commercial expeditions to the moon by 2020, selling seats or cargo space to wealthy individuals, nations, and corporations.
The effort is led by former NASA officials who intend to use commercial rockets such as the Falcon Heavy Lift Vehicle, now in development by SpaceX, the aerospace company started by entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Most likely, the team of ex-NASA hands is hoping to make a publicity splash that will draw additional investors and partners. A trip to the moon, or even a flyby, would be hugely expsensive. In materials prepared for its media launch, the company said the cost of “a two-human lunar surface mission” would be at least $1.4 billion.
Even so, a recent boom in commercial space technology is allowing entrepreneurs to dream bigger than ever. The expected availability of large commercial rockets for hire—the debut launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is scheduled for next year—has spurred growing interest around private exploration, including of the moon, asteroids, and Mars
Golden Spike’s idea is that multiple smaller rockets could be used to more affordably carry separate payloads like fuel, a lander, and a crew.
Golden Spike is the creation of Alan Stern, the former head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Stern gained a reputation as a cost-cutter before leaving NASA in a dispute over budgets in 2008. Also involved is Gerry Griffin, an 80-year-old who was the flight director for several of the Apollo missions. The name Golden Spike is taken from the ceremonial railroad spike that completed the first transcontinental railroad across the U.S.
Stern is currently chief scientist for Moon Express, a company that has entered the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million commercial competition to send an unmanned rover to the moon. Zak Williams, director of marketing for Moon Express, said he could not comment on Golden Spike or whether Stern would remain with Moon Express.
Plans by private companies to reach the moon could be seen as a challenge to NASA. While the agency has encouraged commercial space entrepreneurs, many still think of the moon as a government franchise and even as NASA’s birthright.
“Nobody owns the moon. And according to the current legal framework, no one can lay claim to it, either,” said Williams.