April 10, 2011
Space exploration has been nearly an untapped market by entrepreneurs. This could be due to higher costs associated with the industry but that is about to change. Moon Express, or MoonEx, a Silicon Valley-based, privately funded lunar transportation and data services company, has made it a mission to get back to the moon looking to explore places outside of the Earth’s orbit like the moon. The company believes the moon has materials and rare earth elements and is building robotic rovers alongside scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center as the winner of a $10 Million NASA commercial lunar contract (one of only three U.S. companies for the initial delivery order of this “Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD)” program). MoonEx is also a participant in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. The race is on!
MoonEx was founded by Naveen Jain a philanthropist, entrepreneur and a technology pioneer as the founder of Intelius and InfoSpace, Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, a founder of International Space University, who serves as CEO, and well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former NASA manager, Dr. Barney Pell, Chief Architect for Bing Local Search at Microsoft, who serves as Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer. These three also work together as trustees of Singularity University based at the NASA Ames Research Park.
Aside from the classic fable that the moon is nothing more than a giant cheese wheel in the sky, this is not the first time anyone has thought the moon may carry some valuable materials. I found a 2004 report in Popular Mechanic that shared the view that the moon has “vast stores of nonpolluting nuclear fuel” and a 2007 MIT report with similar findings. Richard Hoagland, a former Curator of Astronomy and Space Science at the Springfield Museum of Science and science adviser to Walter Cronkite and CBS News during the Apollo program, also voiced some similar views in his controversial book Dark Mission. With the idea of sending a bunch of robots to the moon and potentially mining it brings to question, who exactly has rights to the moon? Is this going to be the next gold rush?
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