Soon, the U.S. government may do something it's never done before: Approve a private company to go to the moon.
People familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal the government is close to officially endorsing a mission for Moon Express, a relatively small private space startup.
Moon Express is aiming to send 20 pounds of equipment to the moon sometime next year on its MX-1 lander.
Federal approval is needed, and hard to get, because of the international treaties the U.S. has to maintain. That includes the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which bars nations from claiming sovereignty over celestial bodies or using them for military purposes.
And while militarization may be less of an issue now that the Cold War is over, contamination of the moon, and possible contamination of the Earth from bringing material back from the moon, are still real concerns.
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US government may soon approve the first private moon mission
A picture taken in Toulouse shows the moon on October 25, 2015. AFP PHOTO / REMY GABALDA (Photo credit should read REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A near full moon is seen over Washington, DC, on October 26, 2015. The moon is in a Waxing Gibbous phase and will be full on October 27th. AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
A Brazilian Bororo Indian is seen in front of the moon at the World Indigenous Games, in Palmas, Brazil, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. Non-indigenous locals from sleepy Palmas, where the Games are the biggest thing ever to roll into the town during its short 27-year history as the capital of Brazilâs newest state of Tocantins, got in on the action, too, filling the bleachers and swarming the handicraft fair, getting body paint tattoos and donning headdresses made from macaws. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez waits to bat as the near full moon rises in the distance during a baseball workout Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals will face the New York Mets in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday in Kansas City. (A (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
PRESHEVO, SERBIA - OCTOBER 26: An almost full moon rises behind a moon crescent on a mosque on October 26, 2015 in Preshevo, Serbia. Despite EU Jean-Claude Juncker warning that thousands of refugees could perish this winter unless a solution to crisis was found, thousands of migrants are continuing daily to pass along the Balkan countries such as Serbia as they make the journey north to more affluent countries in western Europe. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The moon rises in the sky above Toulouse on the night of October 25, 2015.AFP/ REMY GABALDA (Photo credit should read REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman is silhouetted near a window as the moon shines over the International Financial Center or IFC building in Beijing, China, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. Facing pressure to pep up a cooling economy, Chinese leaders met Monday to craft a new long-range blueprint to guide development through the end of this decade. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Full moon rises over a chapel next to a vineyard near Bergtheim, southern Germany, on October 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DPA / KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND +++ GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
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Moon Express' proposed mission may show the current state of American space exploration, though. NASA claimed almost 4.5 percent of the entire federal budget in 1966, but by 2014 was only receiving 0.5 percent. And with the national debt rising, even more budget cuts have been proposed.
At the same time, space exploration for private companies has become much cheaper. The Wall Street Journal reports Moon Express projected six years ago that a moon mission would cost $50 million, but now thinks it will cost only half that.
Moon Express is also among the 16 privately funded teams competing for Google's Lunar X Prize. The first company to land a craft on the moon that can travel across its surface and send photos back to Earth will get $20 million.