U.S. Clearance to Fly to the Moon Won by Private Company

In what is the first time the United States has cleared a private space mission to fly beyond Earth’s orbit, permission to send a robotic lander to the moon next year has been granted to a Florida-based company by the U.S. government, the firm’s founder announced Wednesday.

A legal and regulatory framework for a host of other commercial expeditions to the moon, asteroids and Mars has also been set by the unprecedented go-ahead for the Moon Express mission granted by the Federal Aviation Administration’.

The company founder and chief executive Bob Richards said that flying a suitcase-sized lander to the moon for a two-week mission in 2017 is the plan of the privately held Moon Express, headquartered in Cape Canaveral and this is the approval that has veeb given by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

The company said that the spacecraft would beam back pictures and video to Earth and its cargo would include cremated human remains and a number of science experiments and some commercial cargo on its one-way trip to the lunar surface will be carried up by the spacecraft.

Though a 1967 international treaty holds the United States responsible for any flights into space by its non-government entities, before now, no government agency was recognized as having authority to oversee private missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

Spacecrafts beyond the orbit of the Earth have only been flown by government agencies so far.

An interagency review of the Moon Express proposal, which included steps the company would take to ensure compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty was extensively carried out and led by the FAA to address the conundrum.

The FAA already exercises jurisdiction over commercial rocket launches in the United States.

“It’s been a very steep mountain. We had to lay the track at the same time that we wanted to do the mission,” Richards said in a telephone interview.

The same framework is also expected to be used by other companies to plan and get approved similar expeditions.

In an announced mission that raises a host of issues dealing with protecting potential indigenous life on the planet from contamination by Earth microbes, Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, has announced plans to fly a spacecraft to Mars in 2018.

Missions to mine asteroids, operate science labs and repair and service satellites are other missions that are on work among other private space ventures.

Among other issues, concerns about disturbing Apollo and other historic lunar landing sites were issues that Moon Express did have to content with even though planetary protection is less of a concern on the moon.

“We proposed a scenario that built on the existing FAA mission-approval framework,” Richards said.

Richards said that ultimately the Defense, State and Commerce departments, the NASA and other agencies agreed that no new law was necessary.

Moon Express activities on the lunar surface would be advised by but not regulated by the NASA as part of the agreement.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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