This private company just became the first to get an official green light to land on the moon, and it could shape the future of space exploration


moon express lunar lander antenna art

Courtesy Moon Express

An illustration of the Moon Express lander.

On Tuesday, Moon Express, a privately funded commercial space company, announced that it has gotten official permission to land on the moon.


Moon Express is the first private company given the green light for a lunar landing.

A moon landing has only been accomplished by three nations - the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Since it was founded in 2010, Moon Express has been working diligently towards its goal of joining these three nations.

"If we succeed, not only will we become the first private company to land on the moon but the fourth superpower," Naveen Jain, one of three co-founders of Moon Express, told Popular Science. "If a small group of entrepreneurs can do something that only had been done by superpowers, that's a huge shift in what's possible."

Providing humanity with a plan B

Rephrasing John F. Kennedy's famous line, Jain explained that Moon Express chose to the go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is profitable. Although the lander will be equipped with scientific instruments, the company's main goal is mining for metals, fuels, and moon rocks - which some estimates have valued at $16 quadrillion dollars.


"We see this as a first step in providing humanity with a plan B, rather than living on a single point of failure called Spaceship Earth," Jain said.

Jain said that the fact that something that cost NASA billions of dollars a few years ago can be done for under $10 million dramatically transforms space exploration.

Moon Express is one of 17 contenders for Google's Lunar X-Prize, a $30 million dollar challenge to land a spacecraft on the moon, travel 1,640 feet, and transmit high-definition photos and video back to Earth.

It is the first private space company ever to ask for permission to travel beyond Earth's orbit, setting a precedent in space regulations. In order to be more persuasive, it came up with its own temporary framework, allowing the US government to oversee the mission.

Although it hasn't yet chosen a landing site, they plan to stay away from the Apollo landing sites and other NASA artifacts.


The beginning of our lives in space

The company hopes to launch toward the end of next year aboard an experimental rocket built by Rocket Labs, an aerospace company. Although it has developed and tested a large prototype lander, Moon Express still needs to produce a miniaturized version for the mission. Jain said that they are currently testing the navigation and propulsion system. They also need to work out the payloads and the software that will land the rover on the moon.

While NASA has had its eyes on Mars in recent years, Jain believes that the best way to learn to live there is to start by living on the moon.

"It's much better to learn to live off the planet when you're only a few days away rather than months on Mars," Jain said. "We're going to need to go the Moon first. That's our stepping stone, and the beginning of our lives in space."

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