Firm to of­fer trips to moon

Trip for two will set you back $1.5 bil­lion — at end of decade.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By seth Boren­stein

WASHINGTON — A team of former NASA ex­ec­u­tives is launch­ing a pri­vate ven­ture to send peo­ple to the moon for a price that is def­i­nitely out of this world.

For $1.5 bil­lion, the newly formed busi­ness is of­fer­ing coun­tries a twop­er­son trip to the moon, ei­ther for re­search or na­tional pres­tige. The ven­ture was an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

NASA’s last trip to the moon was 40 years ago. The United States was the only coun­try that landed peo­ple there, beat­ing the Soviet Union in a space race that trans­fixed the world. But once the race ended, there has been only spo­radic in­ter­est in the moon. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama can­celed NASA’s planned re­turn to the moon, say­ing Amer­ica had al­ready been there.

But the firm has talked to other coun­tries, which are show­ing in­ter­est in go­ing, said former NASA as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor Alan Stern, who is pres­i­dent of the new Golden Spike Co. Stern said he’s look­ing at coun­tries like South Africa, South Korea and Ja­pan.

“It’s not about be­ing first. It’s about join­ing the club,” Stern said. “We’re kind of clean­ing up what NASA did in the 1960s. We’re go­ing to make a com­mod­ity of it in the 2020s.”

Stern said he’s aim­ing for a first launch be­fore the end of the decade and then 15 or 20 launches to­tal.

Dozens of pri­vate space com­pa­nies have started up re­cently, but few if any will make it — just like in other fields — said Har­vard as­tronomer Jonathan McDow­ell, who tracks launches world­wide.

Many of those com­pa­nies hope to fol­low the success of Space X, which has fer­ried cargo to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion for NASA. But more than 90 per­cent of new ven­tures will fail be­fore any­thing is built, he said.

“This is un­likely to be the one that will pan out,” McDow­ell said.

Even though many coun­tries ponied up mil­lions of dol­lars to fly their as­tro­nauts about the Rus­sian space sta­tion Mir and the Amer­i­can space shut­tles in the 1990s, a bil­lion dol­lar price tag seems a bit steep, he said.

The lat­est com­pany is full of space veter­ans; Amer­i­can Univer­sity space pol­icy pro­fes­sor Howard McCurdy called them “heavy hit­ters” in the field. The board chair­man is Apollo era flight di­rec­tor Gerry Grif­fin, who once headed the John­son Space Cen­ter. Ad­vis­ers in­clude space shut­tle veter­ans, Hol­ly­wood direc­tors, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.N. Am­bas­sador Bill Richard­son and en­gi­neer-au­thor Homer Hickam.

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