How much is a moon rock worth?
According to new contracts inked between NASA and four startups, it’s somewhere between $1 and $15,000.
And with a different form of space race heating up, some companies are trying to cash in.
NASA pledged in September to buy moon rocks from companies that can get robotic rovers to the lunar surface and scoop up samples of the dusty terrain, and the space agency asked for bids from companies all over the world.
The program, which NASA hopes will be completed by 2024, the same year the agency hopes to return astronauts to the moon, is among the most unique in US history.
The goal is not to gather new information about lunar soil composition or study how various lunar resources can be used.
Instead, the goal is to encourage the private sector to invest in rover development.
And perhaps the primary goal of the project is to make clear to the rest of the world that the moon is not just a place for exploration and research, it’s a place of business.
NASA may be the only organization that’s currently in the market for buying moon rocks from private companies, but the space agency allowed the companies to name their price.
It’s not yet clear if any of the companies will succeed in their efforts.
NASA says it will only pay 10% of the total purchase price upfront.
And yes, NASA plans to mail a check for as little at 10 cents, according to NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development.
The companies will receive another 10% after their rovers launch into space, and the final 80% will be paid out after the companies prove to NASA that their rovers have actually collected lunar soil samples of between 50 and 500 grams, or up to about a pound when weighed on earth.
The economic incentive for the four companies signed up for NASA’s new lunar resource program is not exactly clear, but all of the companies are already well underway developing various lunar exploration technologies.