Plans to send people to the Moon by 2020
A private venture launched by former NASA executives plans to send people to the Moon by 2020, costing $1.5 billion for two.
The company, called Golden Spike claims to have generated "real interest" in space agencies in both Asian and European countries.
Golden Spike plans to sell each Moon mission for about $1.5 billion, a relative bargain, said the company's president and CEO Alan Stern, a former director of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Space.Com reported.
"We're selling to nations, corporations and individuals. Get in line and I think it's going to be a long one," he told the website.
"We have spoken to space agencies from both Asian and European countries and found real interest," Stern said.
The missions are being targeted at countries without their own space agencies or that can't afford to launch people to the Moon independently, as well as scientific organisations and even private individuals looking to take the trip of a lifetime.
Stern and Golden Spike's chairman of the board of directors, Gerry Griffin, a former Apollo flight director and NASA Johnson Space Center director, announced their plans on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the last launch to the Moon, Apollo 17, which lifted off on December 7, 1972.
The company's leaders have not yet chosen a launch vehicle or space capsule to transport their passengers; Stern expects to make the final selections in 2014.
Golden Spike will likely use existing or already-under-development rockets and spacecraft.
However, the company will need to commission its own lunar lander and specially designed spacesuits.
The company has been in the works, and under wraps, for two and a half years, Stern said.
This isn't the first private moon-bound venture. The Google Lunar X Prize is offering $30 million to any non-government entity that can land a robot on the Moon that travels at least 1,650 feet (500 metres) and sends data and images back to Earth.
Stern himself is involved with one team called Moon Express vying for the prize. However, no serious company has aimed to send people to the moon.
Each Golden Spike moon expedition will involve four separate launches: two launches to get the lunar lander into orbit, and two more launches to transport crew and
cargo. Golden Spike's leaders hope to fly regular missions throughout the 2020s.
The venture doesn't have a long list of wealthy backers. "We don't need it. We're going to make our business run on sales," Stern said.
The project does have the support of an advisory board made up of scientists, aerospace company leaders, movie producers, and dignitaries.
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