Golden Spike: NASA veterans form startup to send you to the Moon

Mars has been the hot hypothetical destination for space tourists in recent months, but a new commercial space travel company called Golden Spike wants to open up the Moon to science and tourism instead, by offering round trip tickets to the lunar surface for governments, businesses, and people with an obscene amount of money.

Fronted by NASA veterans Alan Stern and Gerry Griffin, the Golden Spike Company has announced its intention to develop and finance a system based on private space industry and commercial infrastructure that will be able to take two humans to the lunar surface (and back again).

The cost for this first mission will likely be somewhere in the $7 to $8 billion range, with subsequent missions costing much less, once all of the development costs are out of the way. For reference, each of the Apollo landings cost about $18 billion (including development). Golden Spike is prepared to eat most of the development costs, though, and it'll will be selling both seats on the very first mission for $700 million each, with subsequent missions costing $800 million each. This sounds like a lot (and it is a lot), but the company says it's about as much as some governments are spending on robot-focused lunar programs.

So, what do you get for your most-of-a-billion dollar ticket? Here's what's included:

Each surface expedition includes a surface stay time of at least 36 hours (exceeding the stay times of both Apollo 11 and Apollo 12), two moonwalks (EVAs), the use of a standard surface expedition tool kit and cameras and optional add-on packages, accommodation of up to 50 kg of lunar experiments and other customer-provided equipment (e.g., flags, plaques, etc.) to the surface, as well as the additional accommodation of up to 50 kg of lunar samples for return to Earth, together with all necessary governmental certifications. Orbital expeditions [a cheaper option at just $450 million per seat] offer a week-long stay time.

Included in each expedition package are all necessary launch vehicles, lunar transit vehicles, lunar landers, space suits, safety equipment, and other hardware, including surface or orbital experiment packages. GSC plans to provide or oversee pre-flight testing, integration, and mission operations as well as training, regulatory clearances, and crew medical exams. Communications, telemetry and mission control functions will also be provided, and training for customer personnel located at mission control.

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If this still seems expensive, Golden Spike has already thought of lots of other ways to make money off of round-trip lunar travel, including:

  • Public participation/membership in expeditions
  • Media rights, brand licensing, and expedition advertising sales
  • Expedition naming rights and merchandising
  • Sales of items flown
  • Sales of returned samples and expeditions artifacts
  • Entertainment products that market each expedition

As Golden Spike President and CEO (and ex-NASA science chief) Stern told the Washington Post, "the trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this." The trick he's talking about is an Apollo-style lunar orbit rendezvous, except capitalizing on "available rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft" to "dramatically lower costs." From the press release:

The emergence of commercial space markets include space tourism and space mining, each of which will intersect strongly with lunar exploration.The commercial availability of key space systems adaptable for lunar expeditions at costs dramatically lower than new government systems is itself a game-changer. These commercial systems, properly integrated into a lunar mission architecture, enable human expeditions to the Moon at prices comparable to robotic agship missions, but with the visibility, legacy, and scientic value that robotic missions cannot offer. These key factors combine to enable recurring, affordable human lunar expeditions that could not have been implemented even a few years ago.

The schedule for all of this looks to be to have the first expedition heading for the moon in 2019 and 2020, and provided it all goes well, subsequent missions will follow every four to six months. Despite the high cost, there's a lot of exciting potential here, and we could be looking at the beginning of a surge in real space tourism as imagined by science fiction writers decades ago.

Golden Spike Company, via Washington Post and Technology Review

Evan Ackerman contributed to this article.

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