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In recent years, private space-exploring companies have been gaining traction with regulatory bodies in the United States, further opening the final frontier to investigation by private citizens.
Now, for the first time in history, a private spaceflight enterprise, Moon Express, has been granted permission by the U.S. government to launch a lunar mission and land on the surface of the moon. Approval of the mission was difficult to obtain, requiring meetings with the State Department, the White House, and the Federal Aviation Administration, and was far from guaranteed. The Verge reports that Moon Express’s audacious proposal came close to being denied.
Moon Express, which is based in Florida, plans to send its robotic lander to Earth’s most famous satellite in 2017. Accomplishing this feat, which has not been done in over forty years, would also mean that Moon Express wins the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, according to The New York Times.
Following the green light, Moon Express CEO Bob Richards enthusiastically proclaimed that “we are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, seeking knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of humanity.”
As the above statement suggests, the Moon Express mission is a commercial endeavor with mercenary motivations. Resources of all stripes exist in abundance in space, and paving the way to establishing space mining operations could prove immensely lucrative.
That does not diminish the significance of a private lunar landing. Should it succeed, Moon Express will have traveled further into space than any other private space company so far, most of which launch satellites and send cargo to the International Space Station.
Moon Express’s eventual goal of mining resources from the moon also represents a broader push to open the starry firmament to commercial exploration and private ventures, without violating international treaties which seek to place limits on military activity in outer space. From a legal and regulatory perspective, commercial ventures into space represent uncharted waters.
Better to commercialize outer space than militarize it.