Moon Express, a private company charged with unlocking the immense potential of the moon's valuable resources, has gotten approval from the U.S. government to begin lunar exploration before the end of this year. The company will be looking to mine gold, platinum, moon rocks and other materials with an estimated potential value of $16 quadrillion. (One thousand trillion is a quadrillion.)
Before long, it's conceivable that the center stone of your engagement ring could be a moon rock instead of a diamond and that the precious metal used for that ring may have originated on the lunar surface.
Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain sees it this way: "Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth," he said. "Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the moon."
Jain expressed two major goals of moon exploration. On one hand, he recognizes the huge commercial upside, and on the other, he sees the settlement of the Moon as a way to ensure the continuation of the human race in the event of a cataclysmic disaster on Earth.
"In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and Moon rocks back to Earth," the billionaire entrepreneur noted. "The sky is not the limit for Moon Express — it is the launchpad. 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."
Far from being made from green cheese, the moon is rich in gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that could be used in fusion reactors, providing nuclear power without radioactive waste.
"We shouldn't only be mining the Earth," he said. "We should be thinking of the moon as our eighth continent."
Getting the green light to explore the moon was no easy task for the Moon Express team. It required in-depth consultations with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies. The group also had to demonstrate to NASA experts at Kennedy Space Center in Florida how its robotic spacecraft would operate on the moon's surface. Moon Express is the only private firm to have been granted permission to leave the Earth and land on the moon.
Moon Express, which is based in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is competing for Google's Lunar XPRIZE, a $20 million award for the first team to put a robotic spacecraft on the moon and deliver data, images and video from the landing site and from 500 meters away. The Moon Express lander is named MX-1 and is about the size of a washing machine.
Within 10 years, Moon Express expects to offer a whole new category of tourism — holidays to the moon. Jain also noted that the moon could act as a fueling station, enabling easier travel for exploration to and from other planets.
"We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space," Jain told CNBC.com. "That type of exponential technological growth is allowing things to happen that [were] never possible before."
Credits: Renderings courtesy of Moon Express; Screen capture via cnbc.com.