The last 12 months has seen the unveiling of a number of commercial space ventures whose audacious plans can’t be immediately dismissed given the technical and financial pedigree of their founders and backers. Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced the formation of Stratolaunch Systems, an air-launch system that requires the development of the world’s largest airplane. Allen assembled a team that included Scaled Composites and, originally, SpaceX (since replaced by Orbital Sciences), with a board that included Burt Rutan and former NASA administrator Mike Griffin. In April, Planetary Resources announced plans for a series of robotic missions to prospect and, eventually, mine asteroids. That company has an impressive list of investors, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt as well as Ross Perot Jr. and former Microsoft executive and two-time space tourist Charles Simonyi.
Yet, the goals of these startups—a giant air-launch system and missions to prospect and mine asteroids—pale in comparison to the goal of another new space startup: sending people to the surface of the Moon. That feat has been accomplished only six times, and by one nation, the United States, with the last such mission, Apollo 17, flying 40 years ago this month. At the time, it was a potent symbol of America’s capabilities, and one of the signature achievements of the 20th century. The scale of that accomplishment, in many respects, grows as the decades stretch on without anyone else repeating it.
Via Stratocumulus, olsen jay nelson