Golden Spike’s president, former Nasa associate administrator Alan Stern, said the firm’s main market was foreign nations – although there was one very rich individual he would not name who had also been talking to the company.
“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.”
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 and then up to 15 or 20 launches in total. Just getting to the first launch will cost the company $7-8 billion, he said.
Besides the ticket price, Mr Stern said there are other revenue sources, such as advertising on the space vehicles, football stadium-like naming rights, and Olympic style video rights.
It may be technically feasible, but it is harder to see how it is financially viable, said former Nasa associate administrator Scott Pace, space policy director at George Washington University.
Just dealing with the issue of risk and the required test launches was inordinately expensive, he said.
Company board chairman Gerry Griffin, an Apollo flight director who once headed the Johnson Space Centre, agreed, saying: “I don’t think there’s any technological stumble here. It’s going to be financial.”
The company is full of space veterans; American University space policy professor Howard McCurdy called them “heavy hitters” in the field. Advisers include space shuttle veterans, Hollywood directors, former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson and engineer-author Homer Hickam.