The journal Nature has published an article on a planned private lunar lander effort called Odyssey Moon. Its business plan is to deliver payloads to the moon for scientific or commercial customers. The three booked payloads are a Dutch laser-based spectrometer instrument, an experimental communications instrument, and, apparently, cremated remains. Odyssey Moon is also vying for the $20M Google Lunar X Prize.
Many of the readers of this blog know of Alan Stern who was formerly head of NASA space science directorate. He is science director for this venture as well as remaining principle investigator for the New Horizons Pluto mission.
Here's a link to the company's website: http://www.odysseymoon.com/index.html
Editorial note: I think that this is a neat concept. If the company delivers a payload to the moon, it will show how far space technology has advanced. Hmm, I wonder if they could put wheels on the lander to have a rover? I'd also love to see the concept eventually extended to missions to near Earth asteroids. As I said in a previous post, exploring the variety of asteroid types will allow us to compare and contrast the processes that formed them.
Even without these embellishments, count me as an enthusiastic supporter. I think there are many, many lunar (and maybe planetary) experiments that could make sense if the cost of delivering the instrument could be kept low enough. A small company could be the vehicle for making this possible.
For now, reaching the moon as a commercial enterprise would be a tremendous achievement, and one that would show the maturity of the space age. Ultimately, I suspect that the commercial success of the company will still depend on the willingness of governments (and many probably could afford to play at the prices suggested by the article) to fund scientists to build and launch payloads. At these costs, there is no reason that many inexpensive missions couldn't be funded. But perhaps I am too much the skeptic, and there is a commercial market out there, too.