Former Apollo Flight Director and NASA Johnson Space Center Director, Gerry Griffin, and planetary scientist and former NASA science chief, Dr. Alan Stern, unveiled on Dec. 6 The Golden Spike Company, which the pair claimed is first commercial enterprize to plan to "offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon." The announcement was made at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last human Moon mission.
Stern, Golden Spike’s president and CEO, and board chairmen Griffin introduced other members of the company's leadership team and detailed the company’s intentions to make complete lunar surface expeditions available by the end of the decade. "A key element that makes our business achievable and compelling is Golden Spike's team of nationally and internationally known experts in human and robotic spaceflight, planetary and lunar science, exploration, venture capital formation, and public outreach," he said.
The company’s plan is to maximize use of existing rockets and to market the resulting system to nations, individuals and corporations that have lunar exploration ambitions. This approach, capitalizing on available rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft, is expected to dramatically reduce costs, a key to creating a market for human lunar exploration. Golden Spike estimates the cost for a two-person lunar surface mission will start at $1.4 billion (USD). According to the company, this price point would enable human lunar expeditions at costs similar to those some national space programs already spend to do robotic science on the Moon.
Stern and Griffin described Golden Spike’s "head start” architecture, which 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 Washington, D.C.-based National Academy of Engineering. In written form, the architecture also has been accepted for publication in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA, Reston Va.) Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, a leading aerospace technical journal. The paper will be available on Golden Spike’s Web site (www.goldenspikecompany.com), which will debut shortly.
According to Stern, Golden Spike has initiated a series of studies with small and large aerospace companies to begin designs for a lunar lander, lunar space suits, and lunar surface experiment packages to be used on Golden Spike missions. The company also announced that it will sponsor an international conference for the scientific community in 2013 on the science that can be done on Golden Spike lunar expeditions.
Golden Spike expects its customers will want to explore the Moon for a variety of reasons — scientific exploration and discovery, national prestige, commercial development, marketing, entertainment and even personal achievement. Market studies by the company show the possibility of 15 to 20 expeditions in the decade following a first landing.
“We could not ... do this without the many breakthroughs NASA made in inventing Apollo, the Shuttle, the International Space Station, and its recent efforts to foster commercial spaceflight,” said Griffin. “Building on those achievements, The Golden Spike Company is ready to enable a global wave of explorers to the lunar frontier.”
“We’re not just about America going back to the Moon," Stern emphasized. "We’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration. It’s the 21st Century. We’re here to help countries, companies, and individuals extend their reach in space, and we think we’ll see an enthusiastic customer manifest developing.” Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (the inspiration for the blockbuster space movie October Sky) and a member of Golden Spike's extensive advisory board, remarked on the company's public launch, saying: "A reliable pathway to the Moon — Earth's eighth continent — will open our nearest neighbor in space to extensive new exploration, and also open it to the imagination of people everywhere."
The Golden Spike Company s a U.S.-based commercial space company incorporated in 2010 with the objective of providing human expeditions to the Moon. It is named after the ceremonial final spike that joined the rails of the first transcontinental railroad across the U.S., on May 10, 1869, and opened up the frontier to new opportunities. Similarly, Golden Spike intends to break new ground and create an enduring link to the next frontier, providing regular and reliable expeditions to the Moon at prices that create a new market for space commercialization.