The United States is offering to pay private companies to mine rocks and other resources on the moon.
The U.S. space agency NASA published an official government listing for the mining proposal on September 10. NASA officials are asking interested companies to collect rocks, soil and other objects from the surface of the moon. The lunar materials would then be sold to the space agency.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says the project was created “for the purpose of demonstrating” that mined resources can be collected. He spoke at a conference organized by the Secure World Foundation, a space policy organization.
The proposals would not involve private companies sending workers to the moon. Instead, NASA wants the businesses to provide robots to be launched into space by the space agency or private companies.
NASA has asked companies from around the world to present proposals to collect 50 to 500 grams of lunar material from anywhere on the moon’s surface. The companies will be required to provide images showing how the material is collected.
In a statement published on a NASA website, Bridenstine said the agency’s goal is to gain control of the collected materials “before 2024.” He added that officials would decide later how and when the materials could be transported from the moon.
Proposals are not limited to American companies and NASA “may make one or more awards,” he said.
Bridenstein repeated NASA’s goal of landing the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 as part of the space agency’s Artemis program. NASA also has set a goal of setting up a long-term base on the moon by 2028. From there, it hopes to launch a series of space operations, including possible flights to Mars.
Last May, NASA released the main ideas for what is being called the Artemis Accords. It hopes the ideas can lead to an international agreement on how people will live and work on the moon in the future. Such an agreement could give companies rights to own the moon resources they mine. For example, businesses doing work for NASA could use the moon’s water ice to produce rocket fuel or mine lunar minerals for other purposes.
Bridenstine said the agency’s plans are permitted under the 1967 “Outer Space Treaty,” which governs international space exploration. The treaty states that outer space – including the moon and other celestial bodies – “shall be free for exploration and use by all states.” The agreement bars any single nation from claiming ownership of such objects.
NASA’s plan to send robots to mine resources is meant to “fuel a new era of exploration and discovery” and help all of humanity, Bridenstine said.
The space agency said it will consider the mined resources the property of the companies until they are sold to NASA. Then, the materials would become “the sole property of NASA.”
“They are paying the company to sell them a rock that the company owns. That’s the product,” said Joanne Gabrynowicz, former chief editor of The Journal of Space Law.
She spoke to Reuters news agency. She added that, “A company has to decide for itself if it’s worth taking the financial and technological risk to do this to sell a rock.”
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and NASA. George Grow was the editor.
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celestial body – n. an object located outside of Earth’s atmosphere, such as the moon, stars or other planets
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