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Private company Moon Express green-lit to launch first non-gov't lunar mission

"We chose to go to the moon because it's a great business," Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain tweeted Wednesday.

By Doug G. Ware
ESA astronaut Tim Peake took this photograph, released in January, of the Moon from aboard the International Space Station. Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued formal approval for a planned commercial mission to the moon next year by private exploration and mining company Moon Express. The company plans to put a lander on the lunar surface and eventually mine natural resources there. Photo by NASA/UPI
ESA astronaut Tim Peake took this photograph, released in January, of the Moon from aboard the International Space Station. Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued formal approval for a planned commercial mission to the moon next year by private exploration and mining company Moon Express. The company plans to put a lander on the lunar surface and eventually mine natural resources there. Photo by NASA/UPI | License Photo

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Aug. 3 (UPI) -- A lunar exploration company received government approval Wednesday to launch a commercial unmanned mission to the moon sometime next year.

Moon Expressed formally received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch its MX-1 lunar lander there in 2017.

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"Moon Express received the green light for pursuing its 2017 lunar mission following in-depth consultations with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies," the company said in a statement on its website Wednesday.

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"Up until now all commercial companies have been limited to operations in Earth's orbit, and only governments have sent missions to other worlds," it added. "With this landmark ruling, Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world as a pioneer of commercial space missions beyond Earth's orbit."

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The FAA said it received the company's request for a Payload Review and Determination on the MX-1E spacecraft in April.

"The FAA has determined that the launch of the payload does not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States," the FAA said in a statement Wednesday. "As long as none of the information provided to the FAA changes in a material manner and the FAA does not become aware of any issues the review did not consider that could affect the determination, the FAA considers this determination final."

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Bob Richards/Twitter

Naveen Jain/Twitter

While the United States has continually sent equipment to the lunar surface over the last 50 years, it has not sent a man to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. Moon Express hopes to ultimately set up a mining operation on the lunar surface to harvest valuable natural resources that are in short supply on Earth.

"We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth's eighth continent," Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said, "seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth's economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity."

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"In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth's economy and potentially our second home," co-founder Naveen Jain states on the Moon Express website. "Imagine that."

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In a tweet Wednesday, Jain echoed famous words that former President John F. Kennedy delivered during the space race 54 years ago.

"We chose to go to the moon because it's a great business," the tweet said, modifying Kennedy's words at Rice University in 1962 that said, "We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

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