If I had a hundred million dollars to spend, would I spend it on a trip around the moon? My gut reaction is to shout, “you bet.” Space Adventures, the same company which has sent several people on vacations aboard the International Space Station, is also offering, for that mere hundred million dollars, a trip around the moon and back. So far, one person has signed up: James Cameron, the film director. If one more signs up, the trip will happen. We really do live in the 21st century.
The trip will be made possible by the Russians, who would launch a modified Soyuz into orbit. There, it would link to a previously launched booster and take off for the circum-lunar flight.
This is not the stretch it might seem. In point of fact, the Soyuz was originally conceived of by the Russians, back in the 1960’s when they still thought they might beat the Americans, as the ship that would take them to the moon. Only as their dreams died, did they relegate the Soyuz to the task of simple orbital flight. But now? They figure it’s a good way to raise a lot of cash. The Russians have become quite the capitalists since the collapse of communism.
So the question remains: if I had that kind of money, would such a flight to the moon be worth it? As I indicated, my gut would tell me that I’d say yes. But once my gut goes quiet and I have time to think, my answer shifts.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and a lover of science fiction and all things space related, certainly has that kind of money. But unlike the millionaires who have plunked down their pocket change for a ride to the International Space Station, courtesy of the Russians, he decided to take the twenty million dollars that a ticket on a Soyuz would cost and gave it to Burt Rutan to build SpaceShipOne.
And then there are other wealthy men to think about, who, like Allen, have boatloads of cash and a love of space who could easily afford to pay the Russians to hitch a ride to orbit. But instead, they took their money and have founded corporations attempting to build their own commercial vehicles to fly into space. Elon Musk, who founded Paypal, has developed the Falcon 9 and the Dragon spaceship. Robert Bigelow, of Budget Suites of America, has decided to build orbital hotels and has put up fifty million dollars for America’s Space Prize for the first person who can get a non-governmental, human crewed ship into orbit twice in two months, carrying five people.
Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon.com founded Blue Origins, a company seriously working on getting people into space. The list goes on. Why don’t any of these people pony up a hundred million dollars, which most of them might find in their couches, and take a trip to the moon? Because they think a one shot deal like that is not a good way to spend that sort of cash, when they could spend the same amount and develop a whole industry that will take them there for less—along with a whole lot of other people, too. That way, they can not only satisfy their personal dreams of space travel, but also make a boatload of money besides.
So the real question is this: if I had a hundred million to spend on one ticket to the moon, would I take that cash and invest it in a plan that would multiply my investment dozens or more times over, or just give it to the Russians? It’s not hard to understand why smart people like Paul Allen give the cash to people like Burt Rutan.