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Is the moon the next frontier in mining?

Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain told NBC News that if his California-based company was successful in a series of tests it plans to undertake this year, its lunar lander, MX-1, could be heading on a one-way trip to the moon by 2016.

The privately-funded Moon Express has already made significant headway, having gained the support of NASA and successfully conducted initial tests of its prototype spacecraft at the American space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in November and December last year.

The company was also awarded $USD1 million ($AUD1.3 million) in January by Google for the project milestone. The prize was part of the technology giant’s $USD30 million ($AUD38.6 million) Lunar X Prize competition, which will award a $USD20 million ($AUD25.8 million) grand prize to the first participating company to successfully explore and send images and video of the moon’s surface back to Earth by 31 December, 2016.

Moon Express was specifically founded for the purpose of exploring and developing the moon’s resources. Jain told NBC News he believes the moon holds precious metals and rare minerals that could potentially help address Earth’s resource and energy challenges. These are said to include gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and helium-3, a gas that he said could be used to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste.

While he said MX-1’s first mission would focus on achieving a soft landing and conducting initial exploration, Jain suggested subsequent Moon Express missions would likely involve the retrieval of “moon rocks” as well as precious metals and minerals from the moon.

“Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth,” Jain said to NBC News. “Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the moon.”

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