Moon Express is a silicon valley startup with plans to mine the moon

Moon Express Inc., or MoonEx, a Silicon Valley start-up is building robotic rovers capable of scouring the lunar surface for precious metals and rare metallic elements.

The private company is building its hardware alongside scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center northwest of San Jose. It was co-founded by Naveen Jain, who made a fortune off his previous start-up InfoSpace Inc.; Barney Pell, the head architect behind Microsoft Corp.’s Bing Internet search engine; and Robert Richards, a commercial space entrepreneur.

MoonEx has been selected by NASA for its $30M Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program. The ILDD contract is for the purchase of technical data resulting from industry efforts to develop vehicle capabilities and demonstrate end-to-end robotic lunar landing missions. The data from these contracts will inform the development of future human and robotic lander vehicles and exploration systems.

MoonEx’s machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth but found in everything from a Toyota Prius car battery to guidance systems on cruise missiles.

While there’s no guarantee the moon is flush with these materials, MoonEx officials think it may be a “gold mine” of so-called rare earth elements.

“From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the moon has never truly been explored,” said Naveen Jain, chairman and company co-founder. “We think it could hold resources that benefit Earth and all humanity.”

Moon Express has entered The Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the Moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth

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