Private Moon Mission Gets Go-Ahead From U.S. Government

moon express Google lunar X prize
Moon Express's robotic MX-1 Lander is about the size of a large coffee table. Moon Express

A small startup is to become the first private company to receive permission from the U.S. government to land a craft on the moon.

California-based Moon Express intends to send a lunar lander to the surface of the moon before 2018 as part of the Google Lunar X Prize.

On Wednesday, Moon Express announced on its website that it had become the first private enterprise to be granted permission to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon's surface, following discussions with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the U.S. State Department, NASA and other federal agencies.

"The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth's orbit," said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards.

"We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth's eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth's economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity."

The eventual goal of Moon Express is to mine the Moon for natural resources of economic value.

The discovery of water on the moon was described by Richards as an "economic game changer," turning the Moon into a "gas station in the sky."

Other companies planning missions into space include Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, while NASA is also taking advantage of the commercial sector in order to advance its own space exploration efforts.

Ultimately, colonizing space and making mankind a multi-planetary species is seen as an essential step to ensure humanity's long-term survival.

"The sky is not the limit for Moon Express—it is the launchpad," said Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain. "This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity. Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children."