The 8th continent. That is how Naveen Jain and Bob Richard envision the Moon. Their company, Moon Express, just got the nod to launch a mission to the Moon. This is a milestone moment in our history. Moon Express would be the first private company to explore another celestial body. Before August 3rd 2016, the day MoonEx got the government approval, private companies were only allowed to explore the orbit of the Earth. Anything beyond that was the purview of government and its agencies. But now MoonEx, a company with only 26 employees, has the permission to launch, land and explore beyond.
Since this is the first time a privately held entity is launching a mission to the Moon, there are no set rules or procedures to it. Therefore, getting approval was a convoluted process that involved a lot of entities including the White House, the State Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, of course NASA and some other federal agencies. The company had to stick to the guidelines of Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an international regulation agreement. Basically Moon Express has to follow these main rules:
• Don’t go guns blazing to conquer another world i.e. a mission to space has to be peaceful.
• No littering allowed. This is to prevent any contamination of another planet or space.
• Don’t touch, only see. One cannot interfere or hinder another spacecraft or mission (read do not disturb the Apollo sites already present on the Moon).
As per the schedule of Moon Express, their unmanned MX-1 lander will be launched next year. The hope is that it will land successfully with all the equipment and hardware. The first mission is only to test and assess the software of their spacecraft. They will be using the Electron Rocket for the launch, provided by Rocket Lab, a startup in LA.
Winning the Prize:
Moon Express hopes to win the Google Lunar X- Prize. The X-Prize awards $2,00,00,000 (twenty million dollars) to the first privately held team to launch a mission to Moon. But, to achieve the award the team needs to land a rover on moon, make it travel atleast half a km, take and send HD photos and videos to Earth and all this needs to be done before 2017 ends. By getting the government approval, MoonEx has cleared the first obstacle to the prize but they still have a long way to the finish line.
Mining the Moon:
Neil deGrasse Tyson said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that mining the moon would be of no consequence as it was birthed from the “loins of Earth”. His words people, not mine. Seems like people at the Moon Express beg to differ with the famous astrophysicist.
Co-founder Dr. Richards says that though they would like to win the X-Prize, their ultimate aim is to mine the Moon. They think that moon has an abundance of metals that come under the platinum group. Mining these metals would provide a safer alternate to the present nuclear fuels.
A Giant Leap:
This approval is once again, a small step, that would turn into a giant leap for mankind. Why? Because for the first time a private firm (read common people like you and I albeit backed by a rich entrepreneur) are allowed to explore literally out of our world.
This paves the path for all and any future commercial activities beyond the Earth’s orbit. The whole rigmarole Moon Express had to take could be used as precedent for other missions, be it mining an asteroid or building a colony on Mars.
It does not stop at just one rover landing on Moon, it begins from there.
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