ALOHA to the Moon
Jim Benson's company built the engines for Spaceship One. At the ILO conference in Silicon Valley, Benson showed us this video of a planned Moon mission. His Spacedev company has a record of delivering things on time and on cost. Rhetorically he asked, "Why not buy from Spacedev instead of re-inventing the wheel?"
Private industry has long believed they can send things into Space cheaper than NASA. Like Hubble, the International Lunar Observatory will eventually need servicing. Spacedev has conceived a mission that would service ILO and incidentally put people back on the Moon. While NASA estimates 100 billion for their Moon plan, Spacedev estimates their cost at less than 3 billion US.
Benson's plan links technology already being developed. Bigelow Spacehab modules would be prepositioned between Earth and Moon. A crew would shuttle from Earth in the orbital version of Benson's Dreamchaser. Upon reaching lunar orbit, 4 astronauts would descend to the Moon in Lunar Human Access (ALOHA) chairs. What a ride that would be! These open vehicles would be much simpler than the Lunar Surface Access Module NASA is designing. The crew would stay in Spacehab modules already landed on the Moon.
One drawback of this plan is the large number of launches. A failure or delay in just one vehicle could scrub the whole mission. For this reason Scott Horowitz and NASA prefer sending as much as possible in one big rocket. Despite this, Benson's plan is so cool that it should be developed in parallel.
As you know, advanced spacesuits are being developed for the Moon. Most Moon plans assume 150 kg for the mass of a crewmember. That assumes spacesuits weighing as much as the 83 kg Apollo suits. If your suit and backpack weigh 23 kg you have saved 1/3 of payload mass. Hire one of us 50 kg astronauts and you have saved HALF the mass per crewmember. Using lighter suits leads to enormous savings in weight, fuel and dollars.
As reported here, NASA's plan for the Moon is moving forward. In parallel, other Space programmes are working toward the same goal. Private industry is more open to innovations (like a lighter spacesuit) that can eventually be used by NASA. By using new ideas, we can all reach the Moon. Riding one of those ALOHA chairs would be worth the trip!