Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Moon Goes Commercial? Maybe, Maybe Not.

A company calling itself Golden Spike has announced it will start commercial moon travel service by 2020.   The company will take people and gear to the lunar surface and back for $1.5-billion a trip.

Golden Spike will follow a model like that of the Russian spaceflight industry in the 1980s and ‘90s, when they charged money to take other nations’ astronauts to the Salyut and Mir space stations for scientific experiments. Many governments, including Finland, Japan, the Czech Republic and Malaysia took Russia up on its offer.

“We can give countries an expedition to surface of the moon for two people,” planetary scientist and aerospace engineer Alan Stern, co-founder of Golden Spike and former head of NASA’s science mission directorate, told Wired. He added that the company is already in talks with several countries “both east and west of the U.S.,” hinting that China may be a possible customer. “Country after country, everyone will want to join the lunar club.”

Golden Spike has its share of doubters.

“I would say that Stern doesn’t have enough zeros in his budget,” said space policy expert John Pike, who directs GlobalSecurity.org and worked for 20 years with the Federation of American Scientists.

The 1960s Apollo program, including development and testing, came to around $110 billion dollars in today’s money or roughly $18 billion per landing on the moon. Trouble is, rocket technology matured quickly in the ’50s and ’60s and “has seen essentially no improvement since the days of Kennedy,” said Pike. It seems a bit unbelievable that a private company can recreate Apollo at an order of magnitude lower cost.

While there are now rockets that can bring a payload to low-Earth orbit, only the enormous Saturn V could launch a vehicle to space large enough to take people to the moon and back. No rocket available today, public or private, has that kind of power.




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