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The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation has for the first time granted a private company permission to send a spacecraft to the moon.
The aptly-named Moon Express plans to send a suitcase-sized lander to the moon next year for a two-week mission, founder and CEO Bob Richards told Reuters. In lieu of a manned mission, the lander's payload will consist of some commercial cargo - cremated human remains, among them - as well as gadgetry to conduct multiple science experiments.
The firm's mission to the moon will cost around $25 million. That's far less than the more than $100 billion spent on the Apollo mission but no small chunk of change. Fortunately, the company may have a way to fund most of the trip.
Quartz notes that Moon Express is hoping to win Google's Lunar XPRIZE which was created in 2007 to incentivize space entrepreneurs. As per the contest, the first team to land a privately funded rover on the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit high definition video and images back to earth will win the $20 million grand prize. The second privately-funded team to do so will take home $5 million.
In an interview with Quartz, Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain said that only three superpowers have ever landed on any planet, adding that they aim to be the fourth (is the moon a planet?).
NASA will advise Moon Express on its mission but won't regulate the company's activities on the moon.