Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Turning science fiction to science fact: Golden Spike makes plans for human lunar missions

Golden Spike proposes to land humans on the surface of the Moon commercially as soon as 2020, for a price tag that has raised eyebrows—and some skepticism [Golden Spike Company].
Jeff Foust
The Space Review

The last 12 months has seen the unveiling of a number of commercial space ventures whose audacious plans can’t be immediately dismissed given the technical and financial pedigree of their founders and backers. Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced the formation of Stratolaunch Systems, an air-launch system that requires the development of the world’s largest airplane. Allen assembled a team that included Scaled Composites and, originally, SpaceX (since replaced by Orbital Sciences), with a board that included Burt Rutan and former NASA administrator Mike Griffin (see “Stratolaunch: SpaceShipThree or Space Goose?”, The Space Review, December 19, 2011). In April, Planetary Resources announced plans for a series of robotic missions to prospect and, eventually, mine asteroids. That company has an impressive list of investors, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt as well as Ross Perot Jr. and former Microsoft executive and two-time space tourist Charles Simonyi (see “Planetary Resources believes asteroid mining has come of age”, The Space Review, April 30, 2012).

Yet, the goals of these startups—a giant air-launch system and missions to prospect and mine asteroids—pale in comparison to the goal of another new space startup: sending people to the surface of the Moon. That feat has been accomplished only six times, and by one nation, the United States, with the last such mission, Apollo 17, flying 40 years ago this month. At the time, it was a potent symbol of America’s capabilities, and one of the signature achievements of the 20th century. The scale of that accomplishment, in many respects, grows as the decades stretch on without anyone else repeating it.

Given those factors, the idea that a human landing on the Moon could be done commercially, and for a fraction of the cost of Apollo or any more recent proposal, hardly seems credible. However, like those other firms, the plans of Golden Spike, the company that formally announced last week its desire to carry out such missions starting as soon as 2020, can’t be easily dismissed. The company has assembled an impressive team, including an Apollo veteran and others with experience in technology, science, policy, and finance. But can this lunar A-team overcome what are likely to be giant technical and financial obstacles?

Read the full article at The Space Review, this week, HERE.

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