By Joel Achenbach
It had to happen: A start-up company is offering rides to the moon. Book your seat now — though it’s going to set you back $750 million (it’s unclear if that includes baggage fees).
Led by heavy-hitter former NASA executives, the Golden Spike Co. would boldly go where humankind went 40 years ago, this time commercially, hawking tickets to foreign governments or space tourists.
“Two seats, 750 each,” former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern said on Thursday, shortly before he appeared at the National Press Club in Washington to announce the formation of the company. “The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this.”
You won’t have to joystick the lunar lander yourself, so don’t worry about dodging killer craters and boulders on the way down. Everything will be automated and controlled from Earth. It’ll be like taking a train, the company said.
“We realize this is the stuff of science fiction. We intend to make it science fact,” Stern said at the news conference. He added: “We believe in the price points that we’re talking about.”
The company has assembled some credible advisers, with a board chaired by former NASA Johnson Space Center director Gerry Griffin. The business model requires economies of scale — lots of customers and lots of missions to the moon to offset the very high start-up cost. The company sees 2020 as a plausible date for that initial trip.
Golden Spike would need to commission a lunar lander and moon-walking suits, but most of its mission architecture would rely on commercial rockets and capsules already flying or under development. For example, the company could use a rocket and capsule developed by Elon Musk’s commercial start-up SpaceX, which has successfully flown cargo to the international space station under a NASA contract.
The primary targets for Golden Spike are foreign countries that want to do lunar science or attain the prestige of putting their own astronauts on the moon. Because of political sensitivities, the company would not sell a moon trip to China, which has been expanding its space program, Stern said. Nor would the company sell rides to any country restricted by law from access to U.S. technology that could be used for military purposes.
Stern said the company has no billionaire backers but has had a serious discussion with one potential lunar tourist. He wouldn’t give the name.
“If you come to me and you’re not an unsavory character, we’re going to fly you,” he said before the news conference…
READ MORE SPACE NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire NASA Files