Nasa to pay $1 to collect rocks from moon

Abigail Fenton
·Writer
The moon. Pedro Lastra/Unsplash
The space agency said the cost is so low because it is only paying for the collected samples, which should each weigh between 50g and 500g. Photo: Pedro Lastra/Unsplash

NASA will pay a company $1 (74p) to collect rocks and dirt from the moon.

On Thursday, the Colarado-based robotics firm Lunar Outpost was accepted as a winning bidder and awarded a contract by the space agency to collect regolith – or rocks, dirt and soil – from the lunar south pole.

NASA bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples as part of its low-cost lunar resource collection programme, paying just $25,000 in total.

The other winners are California-based Masten Space Systems of Mojave ($15,000, £11,164), ispace Europe of Luxembourg ($5,000, £3,721) and ispace Japan of Tokyo ($5,000, £3,721).

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The space agency said the cost is so low because it is only paying for the collected samples, which should each weigh between 50g and 500g, according to its initial request for proposals in September. However, it is not funding for development or travel.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they've been collected,” acting associate administrator Mike Gold said at a press conference.

The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date," Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

This comes shortly after China announced its own lunar collection programme has moved into the next phase, with the Chang'e-5 spacecraft now on its way back to Earth after a successful landing and collection.

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Experts say the extraction, sale and use of off-Earth resources is vital in extending humanity's footprint until the human colonisation of Mars is possible.

Gold said: “We think it's very important to establish the precedent that private-sector entities can extract and take these resources, and NASA can purchase and utilise them to fuel not only NASA's activities but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development in exploration on the moon and then, eventually, to Mars.”

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