A Silicon Valley start-up, founded by an Indian-American entrepreneur, plans to mine the moon and is in the process of building robotic rovers that will search the lunar surface for precious metals and rare metallic elements.
Moon Express Inc or MoonEx, co-founded by Naveen Jain, is building the robotic rovers alongside scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Centre near San Jose, a report in the Los Angeles Times said.
While there is no guarantee that the moon is “flush” with these materials, MoonEx thinks it “may be a gold mine of so-called rare earth elements.”
“From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the moon has never truly been explored,” the report quoted Jain, chairman and company co-founder, as saying.
“We think it could hold resources that benefit Earth and all humanity.”
MoonEx’s machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth but found in everything from a Toyota Prius car battery to guidance systems on cruise missiles, the report added.
“MoonEx should be ready to land on the lunar surface by 2013,” Jain said.
“It’s our goal to be the first company there and stay there.” MoonEx comprises 25 employees, including former NASA engineers, and has received a NASA contract worth up to USD 10 million.
The company is among several others that hope to win the Google Lunar X Prize 30 million dollar competition that requires a privately-funded team to successfully land a robot on the moon’s surface.
The robot must be capable of exploring at least a third of a mile and must also transmit high definition video and images to Earth before 2016.
Jain said the idea of exploiting the moon’s resources for private gain is unlikely to be a concern.
“I also think that the moon will be treated no differently than the international water in our oceans,” he said.
“In this case, no one really owns the water but any company or country can mine the resources from the international water as long as they follow certain safety/moral guidelines,” he said in the report.
MoonEx plans to publicly demonstrate its hardware in the coming months.
The company is financially strong and its co-founders include Barney Pell, the head architect behind Microsoft’s Bing Internet search engine and Robert Richards, a commercial space entrepreneur.