Just on the off-chance that you were planning to steal away this weekend and take a little excursion to the Moon, NASA wants you to be aware of a new program they've created by which the space agency is willing to shell out cold hard cash for precious sacks of lunar rocks or dirt for the next four years to establish a legal domain for these types of celestial transactions.
This week NASA announced that it’s enlisting the assistance of private commercial companies to gather exotic resources for them to buy, including rocks and soil samples picked up and left on the Moon, not actually hauled back to our Big Blue Marble.
How much are they willing to pay, you ask? It's not exactly a king's ransom, but the reward does fall into a range of anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000.
The idea behind this off-world enterprise is to create a vital marketplace and commerce channel for buying and selling Moon rocks and other assorted space materials and resources.
According to a NASA press release, the official requirements state that the aerospace firms must collect up to 1.1 pounds of dirt and rocks off the Moon's surface with a snapshot verifying the location obtained, then sign the lunar loot over to NASA via an "in-place" ownership transfer once these stipulations have been met, with the collected material legally becoming exclusive NASA property afterwards.
The endeavor is meant to deliver a binding precedent for lunar surface mining that would let NASA someday collect ice, helium, or other materials helpful to sustain colonies on the Moon and Mars. The organization needs to demonstrate the potential for “in-situ resource utilization,” which translates into utilizing locally-sourced materials for all future space missions like NASA's upcoming Artemis Moon mission scheduled to launch sometime in 2024.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed the agency's excitement over this important new program:
All activities and expeditions taking place away from our home planet are now governed by the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a document that prohibits extraterrestrial military bases or nuclear weapons and necessitates nations to go forth in peace and clean up after themselves, but there's no exact language revolving around outer space mining.
"When considering such proposals, we will require that all actions be taken in a transparent fashion, in full compliance with the Registration Convention, Article II and other provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, and all of our other international obligations," Bridenstine said in a statement. "We are putting our policies into practice to fuel a new era of exploration and discovery that will benefit all of humanity.
"NASA’s goal is that the retrieval and transfer of ownership will be completed before 2024. The solicitation creates a full and open competition, not limited to U.S. companies, and the agency may make one or more awards. NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith, with any awardee receiving 10 percent at award, 10 percent upon launch, and the remaining 80 percent upon successful completion. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date."
Now go pack your Moon gloves and lunar sample bag and collect your paydirt!