For the first time, a private organization was granted US government approval to venture out to the moon.
Moon Express’ mission is to deliver a lander (roughly the size of a suitcase) for a two-week mission to the moon by next year. The spacecraft will contain several science experiments, as well as commercial cargo, specifically human ashes from paying customers who want loved ones’ remains buried on the moon. The lander will also send videos and pictures from its mission back to Earth.
While unprecedented, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to approve the Moon Express mission establishes a legal and regulatory framework for future commercial spaces expeditions—not just to the moon but to asteroids and, eventually, Mars.
Prior to their approval of the Moon Express, no government agency has been given authority to grant permissions for missions that go outside of Earth’s orbit. According to the New York Times, “The Outer Space Treaty reads, “The activities of nongovernmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate state party to the treaty.”
To date, no other organization has dared to take on the technical and engineering challenges leaving Earth’s orbit evidently presents. However, companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, known for launching satellites into Earth’s orbit and flying supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), intends to fly a spacecraft to Mars in 2018. In addition, companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are already working making space tourism a reality.