Quantcast
Science

World's First Private Moon Landing Gets Approval

For the first time in history, the U.S. government has approved a private company's plans to visit the moon.

The lunar mission will be undertaken by Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express, Inc., an aerospace startup founded in 2010 by‎ space entrepreneurs Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain and Dr. Barney Pell.

The landmark approval was given to Moon Express after meetings with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the White House, the State Department NASA and other federal agencies.

The company plans to send a 20-pound, unmanned spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit to the surface of the moon in 2017. If everything goes to plan, Moon Express will become only the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon following the U.S., USSR and China, as TechCrunch noted.

Jain enthusiastically described the ambitious moon-landing project to the Wall Street Journal:

If the maiden trip proves successful, the company plans to mine and retrieve rare elements and metals from the moon in future missions.

"This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon's surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon's valuable resources," the venture's press release states.

Unsurprisingly, this unprecedented commercial space mission opened up a can of interstellar worms—space regulation is under jurisdiction of the United Nations. As TechCrunch described, Moon Express bought its lunar craft from Rocket Lab on October 2015 before it even had government permission to launch it. The company also did not have the approval to keep what they find on the moon.

But then in November, President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law that allows private companies to keep any resources taken from outer space.

Still, the company did not have clearance to make the trip. To get around this regulatory hurdle, according to TechCrunch, "Jain explained that representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the State Department and the NSA worked together to determine that the FAA, which is already responsible for granting launch licenses to rocket companies, should be the official point of contact for this type of activity."

To get final government approval for the mission, Moon Express had to ensure it was not breaking space law, as The Verge explained:

Moon Express tried to address three critical provisions of the Outer Space Treaty. First, nations must continually supervise all of the space missions that happen within their borders. Moon Express told the FAA it would frequently update the agency with information on the 2017 trip, so that the government could oversee it. The second rule is not messing with other nations' spacecraft or space operations. On the Moon, that mostly means respecting the Apollo sites, and Moon Express assured the government that it wouldn't disturb these areas. "Don't do wheelies over Neil's footprint," joked Richards.

Finally, Moon Express had to show the State Department it would abide by the Outer Space Treaty's provision that is meant to prevent people from contaminating other worlds, called planetary protection. If companies like Moon Express want to land on a body in outer space, they have to be careful not to spread too many bacteria on the surface. Fortunately the Moon doesn't host life, so Moon Express doesn't have to worry too much about contamination. In its voluntary disclosures to the federal government, Moon Express gave the FAA all its data about how it would adhere to the rules of planetary protection.

"The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth's orbit," Richards said. "We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth's eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth's economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity."

"The sky is not the limit for Moon Express—it is the launchpad. This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity. Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children," Jain said in the release. "In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the Moon will be an important part of Earth's economy, and potentially our second home. Imagine that."

The company has a long-term mission of exploring and developing lunar resources for the benefit of humanity and a short-term mission of providing lunar transportation and services for government and commercial customers.

Moon Express hopes to win $30 million from the Google Lunar X-Prize to fuel their lunar mission.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Shutterstock

Stinkhorns, Truffles, Smuts: The Amazing Diversity—and Possible Decline—of Mushrooms and Other Fungi

By Alexander Weir

"Whatever dressing one gives to mushrooms ... they are not really good but to be sent back to the dungheap where they are born."

French philosopher Denis Diderot thus dismissed mushrooms in 1751 in his " Encyclopedie." Today his words would be dismissed in France, where cooks tuck mushrooms into crepes, puff pastry and boeuf Bourguignon (beef Burgundy), to name just a few dishes.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Shutterstock

Soy Meat Is Soy Yesterday: 5 New and Better Options

By Katie O'Reilly

Vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians are no longer satisfied with the soy-reliant faux meat of yesterday. Soybeans are almost always genetically modified, and they also contain phytoestrogens, which may increase the risk of some cancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pexels

Cell Phone Radiation Risks: California Issues Groundbreaking Guidelines

By Olga Naidenko

This week, California officially issued groundbreaking guidelines advising cell phone users to keep phones away from their bodies and limit use when reception is weak. State officials caution that studies link radiation from long-term cell phone use to an increased risk of brain cancer, lower sperm counts and other health problems, and note that children's developing brains could be at greater risk.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Christy Williams / WWF

Celebrating the Biggest Conservation Wins of 2017

It's been a big year for conservation.

Together we assured the world that the U.S. is still an ally in the fight against climate change through the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of more than 2,500 American leaders outside of the federal government who are still committed to meeting climate goals. WWF's activists met with legislators to voice their support for international conservation funding. And we ensured that Bhutan's vast and wildlife-rich areas remain protected forever through long-term funding.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate

3 Extreme Weather Events in 2016 'Could Not Have Happened' Without Climate Change, Scientists Say

Three of 2016's extreme weather events would have been impossible without human-caused climate change, according to new research.

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a collection of papers Wednesday focused on examining the effect of climate change on 27 extreme weather events last year. The research found that climate change was a "significant driver" in 21 of these weather disasters, and that three events—the temperatures making 2016 the hottest year on record, the heat wave over Asia in the spring, and a "blob" of extremely warm water in the Pacific—"could not have happened" without climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Alan Schmierer

These Butterflies Have Lawyers

By John R. Platt

Don't mess with Texas butterflies. They have lawyers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
The price of offshore wind energy has dropped significantly in recent years. Wikimedia Commons

Netherlands Launches Landmark Zero-Subsidy Wind Power Auction

The Netherlands has launched the world's first “zero subsidy" tender on Friday to build 700 megawatts of offshore wind. Shortly after the announcement, the country already found its first bidder.

Zero subsidy tenders have been labeled as a “game-changer" for the sector because it means that potential bidders would rely solely on wholesale electricity prices without financial aid from the government.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
India is betting on a "green future" through clean energy and low carbon innovation. UK Department for International Development / Flickr

World's Largest Solar-Wind-Storage Plant Planned for India

A wind, solar and battery storage plant is being planned for the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which has faced power woes in recent months due to grid failure.

The renewable energy facility will consist of 120 megawatts of solar, 40 megawatts of wind, 20-40 megawatt-hours of battery backup and will be spread over 1,000 acres in the district of Anantapur.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!