How much would you like to see humanity travel back to the moon? Or for that matter, how much would you like to stand amongst the craters of Lacus Somnorium yourself and look up to see your home planet above you, a shining blue marble in the darkness? Since Apollo 17 left the Moon in 1972, no humans have traveled further than a few hundred kilometers from Earth’s surface, but an ambitious space travel company has plans to put humans back on the moon — and they’ll take anyone who can afford the asking price.
The Golden Spike Company, formally announced in December last year, are aiming to provide a means to do exactly that. Riding the wave of enthusiasm for private space flight, they intend to provide reliable transport to the surface of the moon. However, with the cost of the tickets currently expected to be the princely sum of $1.5 billion for a two person mission, their customers are more likely to be governments than wealthy tourists.
Named after the ceremonial “last spike” driven into the first continental railroad to be built in the US, Golden Spike’s intention is, quoting from their website, to “transform human space exploration by putting in place affordably priced lunar orbital and surface expeditions to the only natural satellite of the Earth — the moon,” in much the same way the railroad enabled people to travel across North America in the 19th century. The expected cost of a two person lunar mission for $1.5 billion, while clearly astronomical for private travelers, is an attractive price for government space programs across the world.
Simply, they will be able to launch crewed lunar expeditions for the same price normally expected of robotic spacecraft, making this the cheapest possible way to get to the moon.
Since the end of the 20th century, Russia has already been running commercial space flights, by charging a fee to ferry astronauts from other countries into space. This enabled countries with no space travel capabilities of their own to run a space program, and also allowed a total of 7 wealthy space tourists to go into orbit. Golden Spike intend to follow much the same business structure. As well as taking passengers to the moon, they also intend on making money in a few other ways, such as transporting items and selling much sought-after samples of moon rock — those collected during the Apollo missions have a history of being stolen and sold on for high prices.
The total expected price is $7-8 billion, plus another $1.5 billion per journey. Quite astonishing, in fairness. If the Apollo program were to have been run today, each moon landing would have cost roughly $18 billion, with the full cost being well over $110 billion! With this in mind, many are understandably skeptical that Golden Spike can accomplish the same thing at such a dramatically lower cost, especially seeing as no currently available rocket has enough power to transport a vehicle to the moon.
The trick may be that Golden Spike intend to use a total of four rockets to make the journey. The first two will launch a vehicle and lander into lunar orbit, with the following two sending a crew to rendezvous with those vehicles. They will then be able to use the lander to descend to the lunar surface, before using the second vehicle to return to Earth. While no announcements have been made of which rockets they intend to use, but their website claims that they will use existing launch vehicles. Partner companies currently include Masten Space Systems, who will construct all the craft involved, and Paragon Space Development Corp. who will be providing space suits and life support systems.