“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.”
The selling point: “the sex appeal of flying your own astronauts,” Stern said.
Many countries did pony up millions of dollars to fly their astronauts on the Russian space station Mir and American space shuttles in the 1990s, but a billion dollar price tag seems a bit steep, Harvard’s McDowell 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 will buy existing rockets and capsules for the launches, Stern said, only needing to develop new spacesuits and a lunar lander.
Stern said he’s aiming for a first launch before the end of the decade and then up 15 or 20 launches total. Just getting to the first launch will cost the company between $7 billion and $8 billion, he said.
Company board chairman Gerry Griffin, an Apollo flight director who once headed the Johnson Space Center, “I don’t think there’s any technological stumble here. It’s going to be financial.”