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Moon Express is the first private company to get regulatory approval to land on the moon

The company plans to launch its maiden mission to the moon in 2017.

People Look At Apollo 11 Exhibit The Day Of Neil Armstrong Funeral Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It was a sweltering July morning — 93 degrees, to be exact — and yet Naveen Jain sat in the back of a brightly lit coffee shop in midtown New York in his thick plum purple blazer with a rocket ship pin positioned on the left lapel and greeted me with an ear-to-ear smile. He looked me directly in the eyes, barely blinked and said without a tinge of irony, “I want to inspire people to pursue their moon shot.”

Jain, who was speaking at the United Nations before he headed west to meet me, is the co-founder and chairman of a company called Moon Express and he, along with company CEO Bob Richards and their team of 25 employees, plan to launch their maiden mission to the moon in 2017.

In other words, Jain’s “moon shot” — his ambitious life goal — is to literally go to the moon.

“I want people to say, if a boy who grew up poor in India can go to the moon, what can I do?” Jain, who is also the founder of BlueDot, Infospace and Intellius, told Recode. “What is their moon shot?”

Jain and Richards are not alone in their mission to travel beyond earth’s orbit — Elon Musk plans to launch a rocket to Mars in 2018, Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin has started testing its own rockets — but as of today, they are leading the only commercial company to ever receive government approval to land on the surface of the moon.

That’s because, in part, until Moon Express pushed for it there was no set process for a commercial company to attain regulatory approval to travel beyond earth’s orbit, much less land on the moon. In fact, there wasn’t even a regulatory agency with jurisdiction over commercial space activities. But with an ambitious goal of landing on the moon in 2017, Jain and his team couldn’t wait for pending legislation the U.S. government is currently considering to go through.

So they took it in their own hands: On April 8, 2016, after ongoing conversations with several agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy that began in January, Moon Express submitted an application to launch the first-ever commercial space trip outside of earth’s orbit in 2017.

“Moon Express proposed in our Mission Approval architecture that a distributed authority among the agencies, managed by FAA [Office of Commercial Space Transportation], should be sufficient for our singular 2017 commercial lunar mission,” Richards told Recode in a statement. “The agencies reached consensus that this would work for our proposal as presented and the FAA issued the determination with the concurrence of the Department of State and other agencies.”

To date, the company has raised more than $30 million from the likes of the Founders Fund, Innovative Fund, Autodesk and a number of individual investors.

But the company, which is preparing for its mission by simulating moon landings in Cape Canaveral, Fla., already has plans for what comes after 2017. Though Richards said it’s a decade away, Moon Express hopes to bring back materials from the moon to be commercialized on earth. The company does, however, expect to begin sample missions where they bring back a few pounds of materials in 2020. And under the Space Exploration Act of 2015, private individuals and companies are allowed to claim ownership of anything they bring back from the moon.

“Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children,” Jain said in a statement. “In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and Moon rocks back to Earth.”

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