SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - It's being called a game changer for commercial space exploration. A Silicon Valley startup has become the first private company to receive permission from the federal government to land on the moon. Nearly 50 years after the first man landed on the moon, there's another giant step as the federal government clears the way for private lunar missions.
"Imagine a small group of entrepreneurs when we land on the moon we will become the first superpower," said Moon Express Founder Naveen Jain. "It is an amazing power of entrepreneurship and innovation."
Moon Express announced Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration's go-ahead to send an unmanned spacecraft to explore the moon. Right now, private companies are limited to the earth's orbit. Jain founded the company in 2010 in Mountain View. Its headquarters moved to Florida six months ago.
"It used to cost billions of dollars to go to the moon," said Jain. "Our mission to the moon will cost $10 million."
Jain said for the first mission the small robot lander will capture pictures and video. He then envisions mining precious resources like helium-3 and ultimately taking people to the moon. Dr. Periklis Papadopoulos teaches aerospace engineering at San Jose State University.
"I think it's just the beginning," said Papadopoulos. "I see many many more of those missions. I also see more competition. People start to realize all this space qualified type hardware, it's possible at a reasonable cost."
Winning FAA approval makes Moon Express the top contender in Google's $20 million Lunar X-prize for the first team to land a privately-funded robot on the moon. Jain called the spirit of entrepreneurship the real prize.
"Everyone who is watching this, remember there is nothing that is impossible," said Jain. "Find your own moonshot."
The FAA still needs to inspect the rocket Moon Express plans to use before giving the company a license to launch. Jain is confident and determined to make history next year.