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NEW ORLEANS—The day before we talked with Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain, he sat on the Collision Conference mainstage next to a HoloLens-clad Robert Scoble. The successful investor Jain and the enthusiastic tech-evangelist Scoble chatted about “Startups as a Superpower,” exploring what it means if a private business—and not another nation-state—becomes the fourth entity to reach the Moon. And while the challenge definitely carries an inherent amount of glory, Jain believes a startup will have the next Armstrong moment for one familiar reason.I throw the birds at the pigs.’ But that’s exactly what they wanted.”
As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon. Moon Express famously stands as one of 16 participants in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. To win, a team must land a privately funded rover on the Moon, have that vehicle travel 500 meters, and then transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. Teams from across the globe had until the end of 2016 to obtain verified launch contracts and must complete their missions by the end of 2017. The first team to accomplish all that wins $20 million (second place earns $5 million).
the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.
Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.
“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”
Helium-3, “a completely non-radioactive, clean energy source that could create an abundance of energy on Earth,” will prove to be the killer Moon application.
Or, it could be something simpler, like Moon rocks (“The Moon has been a symbol of love for hundreds of generations,” Jain pitches. “‘Everyone gives someone a diamond, if you love someone enough, you give them the Moon.”) or Moon kids (“Would your child on Earth want to create pin art and put a footprint on the Moon for $99—is that the Pokemon Go of the Moon?”). We can never know for sure, Jain notes, until we get to such a point. So today, the biggest reason he wants to push Moon Express across the finish line remains the most basic one.
“[Landing on the Moon] would be symbolic of what entrepreneurs are capable of doing,” Jain says. “My hope in landing on the Moon is that it’s a four-minute mile event—once someone ran a mile under four minutes, there were a dozen other people who ran the mile next year. Will you go build the Pokemon Go of the Moon because we showed you it’s possible?”
Listing image by Nathan Mattise