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Private company to offer rides to moon by 2020

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To keep costs low, Golden Spike will likely use existing or already-under-development rockets and spacecraft. However, the company will need to commission its own lunar lander and specially designed spacesuits. Stern called rumors that Golden Spike had already chosen SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy rocket "not true."

The company has been in the works, and under wraps, for two and a half years, Stern said.

"I don’t think anybody's got us beat," he added. "This is state-of-the-art cool."

The missions are being targeted at countries without their own space agencies or that can't afford to launch people to the moon independently, as well as scientific organizations and even private individuals looking to take the trip of a lifetime.

"We have spoken to space agencies from both Asian and European countries and found real interest," Stern said.

Private moon race

This isn't the first private moon-bound venture. The Google Lunar X Prizeis offering $30 million to any nongovernment entity that can land a robot on the moon that travels at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) and sends data and images back to Earth. Stern himself is involved with one team called Moon Express vying for the prize. However, no serious company has aimed to send people to the moon.

Each Golden Spike moon expedition will involve four separate launches: two launches to get the lunar lander into orbit, and two more launches to transport crew and cargo. Golden Spike's leaders hope to fly regular missions throughout the 2020s.

The venture doesn't have a long list of wealthy backers. "We don't need it. We're going to make our business run on sales," Stern said.

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