SPACE pioneers have launched audacious plans for a £460 million-a-ticket lunar shuttle service, outlining their bid to pull off the first commercial manned Moon landing by the end of the decade.
Golden Spike, a Colorado-based start-up, last night unveiled its vision for making the Moon “Earth’s eighth continent”, revealing the groundwork for a business that it says will ultimately make lunar travel “routine”.
The announcement coincides with today’s 40th anniversary of the launch of Nasa’s Apollo 17 mission, the last of America’s six crewed moon landings.
“We’re not just about America going back to the Moon; we’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration,” said Dr Alan Stern, the company’s president and chief executive officer and a former head of science missions at Nasa.
A number of leading aerospace companies including United Launch Alliance – a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin – are among those allied with the company.
“The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this. The difference is now we have rockets and space capsules in the inventory … They’re already developed … We don’t have to start over,” said Dr Stern, adding: “We can do this.”
The company aims to facilitate the first £880 million, two-man mission to the Moon, by 2020 and up to 20 more in the decade that follows.
The venture is named after the last ceremonial stake that was driven into the ground on completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the US during the mid-19th century, signifying the opening of a frontier.
It will effectively operate a charter shuttle service to the Moon, setting up 500,000-mile return voyages for a client list that will comprise governments, research institutions and wealthy individuals.
Goals will range from scientific study trips to resource extraction industry and even human habitation on the Moon. Talks with potential first customers are under way.
Golden Spike’s price tag is far higher than Virgin Galactic’s space tourism programme, which offers a two-hour trip into space for £128,000 per person.
The US government’s space programme is facing mounting criticism, with separate reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the Space Foundation this week lamenting Nasa’s loss of direction, blaming the White House and Congress for a lack of a clear space exploration mandate, and calling for a resurrection of the “pioneering doctrine” of the Apollo era.
However, in a statement yesterday, Nasa commended Golden Spike’s announcement, praising president Barack Obama for his policy of fostering the commercial spaceflight industry.
“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,” it said.