A Boulder-based company led by a roster of former NASA executives on Thursday announced plans for a privately funded effort to send humans to the moon by 2020.
The Golden Spike Co. is attempting to create a turnkey model for a "reliable and affordable" lunar-transport system. The company expects to serve nations or individuals with interests ranging from scientific research and resource mining to national or personal prestige.
Local planetary-scientist legend Alan Stern will serve as Golden Spike's president and chief executive.
"We realize this is the stuff of science fiction, but we intend to make it science fact," Stern said during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. "This is the secret: We are not reinventing the wheel. We are starting from what we've already developed in technology and systems."
The announcement coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 17 launch, the last human flight to the moon — or any human destination outside of low Earth orbit.
Stern, who lives north of Boulder, has a long list of space credentials. He served as executive director at Southwest Research Institute and is currently associate vice president. He was named NASA's science chief in 2007-08, where he was responsible for the organization's $4.4 billion budget that directed 93 flight missions. In 2007, he was listed among Time magazine's Top 100 most influential people.
Gerry Griffin, former Apollo flight director and NASA Johnson Space Center director, will serve as the Golden Spike's chairman.
The company's business model has a heavy reliance on existing space-equipment design and technology. It also lists a product price tag of $1.5 billion for a two-person expedition to the moon. At that price, Stern said, the company could recoup all of its development costs, which he estimates to be $7 billion to $8 billion for the project.
"We realize that our plans may generate some skepticism. I think that's only natural, and probably healthy," Stern said. "But you've seen these notions shattered again and again. We believe in the price points that we're talking about. We wouldn't have gone public if we didn't."
Jeffrey Forrest, chairman of the aviation and aerospace-science department at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is a published author on space commerce and has developed curriculum on space entrepreneurship.
"This is a long-term thing," Forrest said. "This isn't like market penetration, you know, put up a couple of marketing signs, build it, and they will come."
Forrest doesn't believe there is a huge market for lunar missions right now but notes there is an economic advantage in being the first.
"We know that there are near-Earth objects that are mineral-rich, but we don't currently have the technology to make that economically possible," Forrest said. "If they can get the capital to do this with the moon, then they've got the experience and knowledge base to be primed for going to these other targets."
As for supporters and investors, Golden Spike has an advisory board packed with credentials in space, technology, journalism, film and politics, including Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and candidate for U.S. president.
The company's name is a reference to the final spike that joined the east rails to the west rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the U.S. in 1869.
Kristen Leigh Painter: 303-954-1638, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kristenpainter