US government may soon approve the first private moon mission
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.
A look back at the last supermoon of 2015:
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.