SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic… competition is raging among billionaires’ companies that promise to send on the Moon for a spacey holiday. For now, they’re all focused on the first stage of the plan, the suborbital flights, which involve making us circle the satellite before returning to Earth. But when are we really going to be able to set foot there, like Neil Armstrong in 1969? Companies are working on it. But there are still some problems to be solved.
Moon Express and the promise of a low-cost flight
Founded in 2010 by billionaire entrepreneur Naveen Jain, Moon Express is the first private company to get the official permission from the US government to land on the Moon. In 2016, it promised to send tourists on the moon for about €10,000 as soon as 2020, reported the Telegraph. Is this realistic?
Such a journey requires a lot of training
Not so fast! “Professional astronauts undertake at least two years of intensive training for any upcoming mission, and I imagine the passengers will need similar amounts”, explained Ms Libby Jackson, Head of the space flight program and microgravity at the UK Space Agency, to the BBC. For if a suborbital flight, for which the tourist is the only passenger, take place like on an airplane flight, to leave the cabin requires a careful physical preparation. How can we ensure that we can send a considerable number of passengers to the Moon if each one of them must train for two years?
There is still a lot to be done before
The last time a human being set foot on the Moon, he stayed there a little more than 2 hours, just the time of a quick jog and to plant a flag. “This time, it’ll be much longer than that”, said John Olson, Director of NASA’s Exploration Systems, at Space.com. He explained that we are preparing for “a permanent human presence in space”. This would require to tame the satellite to make sure that it is indeed the promised Eldorado. To do this, private ships, such as those of Moon Express or SpaceX, are not enough. It is also necessary to install on site various safety devices. Drawback: “The amount of energy required to send such a loaded ship to the moon does not exist yet”, said Jeff Hanley, NASA’s constellation program manager.
What if we were to start sending tourists orbiting the Moon before promising to set foot on its surface? The problem is that a $30 million grant promised by the Google Lunar XPRIZE is at stake. If the motivation of the participants is therefore understandable, we should not rush it. As indicated by Ars Technica, there are no longer startups formerly in contention who ended up giving up, failing to have undergone the pressure of the old target date, 2017. Fortunately, Google left a little more time to the participants, which now have until March 2018 to send a ship to the moon, wrote Space.com.