Back in January 2012, Newt Gingrich promised the American people that, if elected, we would have a permanent moon base "by the end of his second term."
Gingrich obviously wasn't elected, but he will not rest until all those who ridiculed his lunar ambitions are eating crow. You see, the longtime space enthusiast is on the board of advisors for The Golden Spike Company, a private space travel venture that, earlier today, announced its plans for commercial lunar space expeditions by 2020.
Trips start at around $1.5 billion — which sounds extortionate until you learn that the fare covers two whole tickets. Totally affordable! Line for Moon trips forms on the left!
Seriously though, a price tag like that really only makes sense once you've learned that GSC's target clients aren't individuals, but governments. Governments, plural. As in, not just the United States. As in, several countries "both east and west of the U.S.," to quote Alan Stern, co-founder of Golden Spike and former head of NASA's science mission directorate (Golden Spike is no joke — the board includes several former NASA engineers and aerospace experts). As in, Newt may just have his moonbase, yet — and it might not even be American.
From a GSC press release, issued earlier today:
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last human exploration of the Moon, Former Apollo Flight Director and NASA Johnson Space Center Director, Gerry Griffin, and planetary scientist and former NASA science chief, Dr. Alan Stern, today unveiled "The Golden Spike Company" – the first company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon. At the National Press Club announcement this afternoon, Dr. Stern, Golden Spike's President and CEO, and Mr. Griffin, chairman of Golden Spike's board of directors, introduced other members of Golden Spike's leadership team and detailed the company's intentions to make complete lunar surface expeditions available by the end of the decade.
According to the release, the GSC plans to limit expenses by partnering with other private space flight companies and established space tech.
"The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this," Stern told the Washington Post. "The difference is now we have rockets and space capsules in the inventory. . . . They're already developed. . . . We don't have to invent them from a clean sheet of paper. We don't have to start over." Today's press release weighs the cost of the company's lunar tourism package against those of existing national space programs, and aims to legitimize GSC's business model:
This approach, capitalizing on available rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft, dramatically lowers costs to create a market for human lunar exploration. Golden Spike estimates the cost for a two-person lunar surface mission will start at $1.4 billion. This price point enables human lunar expeditions at similar cost as what some national space programs are already spending on robotic science at the Moon.
Dr. Stern and Mr. Griffin described Golden Spike's "head start" architecture that has been two years in the making and vetted by teams of experts, including former space shuttle commander Jeffrey Ashby, former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, and Peter Banks, a member of the National Academy of Engineering. It has also been accepted for publication in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, a leading aerospace technical journal.
As for NASA, it's already given GSC its blessing. They even wrapped it in a nice endorsement for Obama — perhaps not surprising, given that the Agency is rumored to have cleared plans with the administration to establish a manned base on the far side of the Moon. From a written statement by NASA spokesman David Weaver:
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.
As the private sector works to develop human missions to the International Space Station and eventually the moon, NASA will continue to develop new technologies and capabilities to advance the frontier ever further into space.