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Golden Spike on the Moon | by jurvetson
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Golden Spike on the Moon

From WIRED today: "A private enterprise named the Golden Spike Company announced today that they have plans to fly manned crews to the moon and back for a price of $1.5 billion per flight by 2020. It seems a bit unbelievable that a private company can recreate Apollo at an order of magnitude lower cost."


It reminds me of my earlier flickr post on my lunar orbit dreams, specifically:


Since the moon has no atmosphere, it presents a unique orbital opportunity – we could fly incredibly close to the surface while staying in lunar orbit. Apollo X dropped to an orbit 47K feet off the surface – like a private jet altitude over Earth.


If the goal is tourism, you could go much lower, and with no landing, it could have a downward facing window optimized for the views. I would want to figure out the tradeoff of orbital altitude and surface speed — skimming a thousand feet over the highest crater (Zeppelin altitudes) would be amazing, but might be dizzying. But, since the moon has 1/6 the mass of Earth, the orbital speeds at any given altitude are about 1/6 as fast... so it could be slow and low, that is the tempo... =)


Why not land? The cost and complexity just explodes, as the Russians discovered in the space race. For a new tourist activity, so does the risk. And to what benefit? With the full Apollo stack with EV on the moon, yes, you could cover some distance, but not as much as you can see in orbit. Bouncing around on foot just does not grab me as an essential first person experience. And, moon gravity and Mars gravity is easily simulated on the parabolic planes if that’s the key attraction.


And all that weight and design constraint would likely tradeoff with the window-optimized design. I would rather spend more time in orbit, at various heights, than attempt a landing.


I do wonder about a spacewalk. These EVA activities are a much easier engineering challenge, and might not tradeoff with the earlier goals. Michael Collins marveled at his EVA in Earth orbit:


“This is the best view of the universe that a human has ever had. We are gliding across the world in total silence, with absolute smoothness; a motion of stately grace which makes me feel God-like as I stand erect in my sideways chariot, cruising the night sky.


I am in the cosmic arena, the place to gain a celestial perspective; it remains only to slow down long enough to capture it, even a teacup will do, will last a lifetime below.


(I shared his further description of the magic here; it drives my intuition about windows and transformational experiences.)


On the Apollo lunar missions, the EVAs occurred on the trip back from the moon (to remove film from the scientific bay for example) but not in lunar orbit. Imagine a tethered space walk soaring over the lunar surface…

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Taken on December 7, 2012