Attention wealthy nations and billionaires, a team of former Nasa executives will fly you to the moon – as long as you’ve got nearly £1bn to spare.
For a mere $1.5bn (£937m), the business, Golden Spike, is offering countries the chance to send two people to the moon and back, either for research or national prestige.
Some space experts though, are sceptical of the firm’s financial ability to get to the moon.
Dozens of private space companies have started up recently, but few, if any, will make it, said Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks launches worldwide. “This is unlikely to be the one that will pan out,” he said.
Nasa’s last trip to the moon launched 40 years ago yesterday. The United States is the only country that has 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 cancelled Nasa’s planned return to the moon, saying America had already been there. On Wednesday, a National Academy of Sciences said the nation’s space agency had no clear goal or direction for future human exploration.
But the ex-Nasa officials behind Golden Spike do. The firm has talked to other countries, which are showing interest, said former Nasa associate administrator Alan Stern, Golden Spike’s president. Mr Stern said he was looking at countries such as South Africa, South Korea and Japan.
One very rich individual – he would not give a name – had also been talking to the company, but its main market was foreign nations, he said.
“It’s not about being first. It’s about joining the club,” Mr 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.”
The selling point is “the sex appeal of flying your own astronauts”, Mr Stern said. Nasa chief spokesman David Weaver said the new company “is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama administration’s overall space policy” which tries to foster commercial space companies.
Getting to the moon would involve several steps. Two astronauts would launch to Earth orbit, connect with another engine that would send them to lunar orbit. Around the moon, the crew would link up with a lunar orbiter and take a moon landing ship down to the surface.
The company would buy existing rockets and capsules for the launches, Mr Stern said, only needing to develop new spacesuits and a lunar lander.
Mr Stern said he was aiming for a first launch before the end of the decade.