Moon Express Q&A: The first private company with permission to go to the moon

In this week’s column, Kehlan talks to Naveen Jain, chief executive of Moon Express. Last week, Moon Express became the first private company in the world to be given permission to go to the moon. Naveen talks about the economic potential and what the move could mean for the future of humanity.

What exactly is Moon Express?

Well, Moon Express is a company that is taking the real moon-shot. That is, making it affordable and making it possible for humanity to go to the moon.

As a private company what it really means to us is that today a small group of entrepreneurs are capable of something that traditionally only the superpowers of the world could do.

So when we land on the moon, not only will we be the first company ever to do so, we will become the fourth superpower.

By that, I mean that the power has shifted away from individual countries to people who have access to information and to technologies that can allow them to do the things that were considered impossible not so long ago.

It shows the creativity and power of entrepreneurs who set out to achieve big things.

So where does this quest for the moon come from?

Well if I could edit John F Kennedy’s famous quote — “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it makes good business sense” —and good business sense is what makes entrepreneurs tick.

Everything that is scarce on Earth is in abundance in space. If you look at the Earth we are a tiny pale blue dot in the middle of a vast galaxy. So, think of all the things that we find on our planet.

Now think of how much more of those resources are in space. We fight over land, we fight over water, we fight over energy and all of those things are in abundance in space.

Many people estimate that the natural resources contained within the moon amount to about 16 quadrillion dollars.

That’s just one celestial body in our own solar system. For example, a small amount of Helium 3 could provide Earth with the clean energy it needs for generations to come. So not only is what we’re doing going to benefit humanity, at the same time we’re providing a plan B for humanity.

What kind of hurdles do you need to get over to get permission to do this?

It was more than hurdles. Just think of the concept for a moment. This is something that has never been imagined, asked for or approved. You have something like the International Space Treaty which outlines the behaviours countries should have when undertaking missions into space.

However, there is no department for approving lunar missions. So, we had to go around to individual states and get approval from them.

Funny thing, there is nothing in the charter for approving missions, but there are lots of points in there for not approving missions. So they could come up with ten reasons why you can’t go, so you go back and fill the criteria for each one of those. That wouldn’t make a difference because there is nothing that allows them to approve space missions.

So, we took our case to the White House and they called all the relevant departments together.

They sat them down and said, look, these guys want to do something different, something that could have a real benefit for all of us. The administration also realised that space exploration’s future lies with private companies.

It takes the financial implications for the government into private companies — taking the burden from the taxpayer and putting it onto companies who can use their own resources to explore space.

If you look at Moon Express and what we have done you get a good idea of this. Lunar missions were usually big undertakings costing billions and billions of dollars. Today we are using an innovative approach and have rockets that cost just $5m.

That means the marginal cost of going to the moon is around $10m. Suddenly it starts to make a lot of business sense to start doing this because the costs are so low.

In the years to come that cost will only go down. The same concepts and ideas that are making your iPhone thinner and your cars more autonomous are the same ones that are helping to shrink the costs of going to the moon, while still having something that is better than what came before it.

This is going to democratise space as well. So in time space exploration will be accessible to everybody, not just the super-rich or those that can afford it. We’ll see it as just another trip. Like getting on a plane from Dublin to Sydney.

Everybody needs inspiration and to me, landing on the moon would show that anything is possible.

I came to the US with $5 in my pocket. People can say here is someone from a different culture and a different language who now has an opportunity to go to the moon. That is what moves society and humanity forward.

It’s about inspiring others to find their own moon-shot and I hope everybody reading this goes and tries to find their moon-shot.

The minute you think something has become impossible, it becomes impossible for you and not for someone else.

Dream so big that people think you’re crazy and never be afraid to fail. You only fail in life when you give up, everything else is just a pivot.

What next for Moon Express?

Well, we’re going to begin exploring resources on the moon and look at how we’re going to bring those resources back. We’ll continue to build the business of taking the payloads up and bringing the resources back.

In the meantime we’ll also be looking at setting up a habitat on the moon which will enable humans to become a multi-planetary society.

We’re working on creating fuel depots which will help to bring costs down further. We are also part of BlueDot which is a company working on solving humanity’s biggest problems.

Could we cure the biggest disease on the planet, ageing? Can we find a way to make sure people don’t die of ageing?

There are a lot of these really big fundamental questions which are staring us in the face and sooner or later we are going to have to tackle them. We’re aiming to do it sooner rather than later.

By tackling these big problems we will need entrepreneurs with the vision and character to go after those problems. We need to inspire young people to be the leaders of today, not the leaders of tomorrow.

The name came about from listening to Carl Sagan talks about our place in our solar system. BlueDot is taking the moon-shots here on Earth in an effort to make life better for everybody here. If we fail at that, we’ll also have the plan B for it. We can take you to the moon.


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