For the first time, a private company has gotten the go-ahead to fly beyond Earth's orbit and land on the moon.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday approved an application for Florida-based Moon Express Inc. to land on the planet in 2017, according to the company.
“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,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said in a statement.
The company plans to “land a washing machine-sized vehicle on the moon that would take hops across the lunar surface using engine firings instead of roving on wheels,” The Associated Press reported.
Moon Express already has five customers lined up for its maiden voyage, according to the wire service – including a company that plans to take people's ashes to the moon.
Richards told the AP that Moon Express plans to launch a spacecraft late next year, most likely out of New Zealand. However, the company has yet to finish building its lander.
"In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth,” Moon Express Chairman Naveen Jain said. “In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth's economy and potentially our second home. Imagine that."
Moon Express applied for permission to launch its lunar mission in April. It was approved after the company consulted with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies.
If the company is successful, it would win the Google Lunar X Prize for being the first private group to make it to the moon, The New York Times reported. The prize carries a $20 million reward.
Previously, only governments have flown into outer space. Only three countries have ever landed spacecraft on the moon: the United States, China and the former Soviet Union.
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