A duo of former top NASA officials have unveiled plans to offer manned lunar flights by the end of the decade.

The announcement on Thursday came 40 years after the last man touched down on the moon.

The two entrepreneurs behind the Golden Spike Company are Gerry Griffin, a former Apollo flight director who directed NASA's Johnson Space Center, and Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and former NASA science chief.

It counts high-profile politicians among its advisers, including former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and a top official under President Bill Clinton.

The Golden Spike Company derives its name from a reference to the spike that completed the first railway to traverse the US.

Its aim is to participate in the new wave of private spaceflight, and open new frontiers by getting humans back into outer space.

In 2011 the US space agency retired its space shuttles in an effort to scale back on costs.

NASA has also commissioned Russian craft to get people and supplies to the International Space Station. More recently, transportation was on spacecraft built and operated by SpaceX which carries just cargo.

With manned flights being put on hold due to ever shrinking budgets, the US space agency is relying on robots to do its exploring of the rest of the solar system.

Space flight, is thus on course to being opened to commercialization, with private companies premiering the launch of rockets into orbit.

With a price tag of $1.5bn for a round-trip expedition to the moon, the Golden Spike Company said it will reduce costs by "capitalising on available rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft".

The company aims to sell flights "to nations, individuals and corporations with lunar exploration objectives and ambitions," it said, adding that the estimated prices "are a fraction of any lunar program ever conceived".

Source: Agencies