Moon Express, a startup company based in Cape Canaveral, will soon become the first company to travel to the Moon and explore its potential for resources.
The US government has granted permission to the company to launch from the US and aim for the Moon. They already have a launch date goal for 2017, when they plan to send a rover to the moon’s surface and survey for the best locations to set up mining operations. They are particularly looking at mining iron ore, water, rare Earth minerals, metals, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium-3.
Naveen Jain, founder of Moon Express says he was inspired by Elon Musk and SpaceX. He says that his company's mission is part of a larger vision to start spreading humanity's wings outside the Earth. He believes that multi-planetary habitation is very important for the survival of the human race, and this is the first step towards that. He also says that space flight is becoming cheaper and cheaper. In an interview with CNBC, he says that in a few years, traveling to the Moon may cost as little as $10,000.
"In a mission that initially cost us to go to the moon about $25 billion, our mission to the moon next year is going to be $7 million, and the year after it's going to go down to millions. And in the next ten years, the cost of going to the moon is going to be $10,000. And in fact, even the time to go to the moon … we'll be able to go to the moon in 4 hours. That's faster than going from New York to London," Jain told CNBC.
In a more pragmatic view, the Moon may also provide some much-needed resources. The Earth is running out of exploitable Helium-3 but there is good reason to believe that the Moon has an abundance of helium-3, an isotope used in neutron detection, cryogenics, and medical lung imaging.
The legal framework for extracting minerals outside of Earth is still debatable. Yet in 2015, the US Congress passed a law that made extracting resources in space fair game and China is also actively seeking ways to mine the Moon. The race is on, and everyone wants a piece of the moonpie. But in the long run, Moon Express is eyeing an even bigger objective: Mars.
"Mars is absolutely the right place to be ultimately. But (the) moon is the first training ground and the first stepping stone. At the end of the day, we would rather me a lunatic three days away than be a Martian six months away," Jain told CNBC. "So I really believe the problems living on the moon are similar – the high radiation, vast temperatture difference – and if we can solve that problem on the moon we can easily go on living on Mars after."