The Golden Spike announcement came just a day after a National Research Council report concluded that NASA lacked direction and in fact had a mission statement so "generic" it could apply to any government research agency. The timing of the lunar reveal was notable in at least one other respect, arriving as it did one day before the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last mission to deliver astronauts to the moon.
In a statement responding to Golden Spike's announcement, a NASA spokesperson said: "This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama administration's overall space policy—to create an environment where commercial space companies can build upon NASA's past successes, allowing the agency to focus on the new challenges of sending humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars."
As NASA targets other destinations, the potential benefits for lunar science—if Golden Spike can realize its lofty ambitions—are huge. Stern argued that the robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity spent four years on Mars before delivering as much science as Apollo 17 accomplished in a few days with two humans (including a trained geologist) on the moon.
In addition to Stern and Griffin, Golden Spike counts among its advisers politician Newt Gingrich, former House Science Committee Chair Bob Walker, former Space Shuttle Program Chief Wayne Hale, a Star Trek set designer, and Nancy Conrad, founder of the Conrad Foundation and widow of Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad.
Conrad, speaking from the audience at the press conference, said that her late husband had become very interested in commercial spaceflight near the end of his life. "If I could imagine what he'd be doing right now if he were here," she said, "he'd probably be clicking his heels."