US grants its first clearance for a private flight to the Moon

Moon Express hopes to put a lander on lunar soil in 2017.

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If you're running a private American company that wants to send payloads to the Moon, who do you talk to in order to get the all-clear? Moon Express knows -- it just got the first-ever clearance from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation for a flight to the Moon. The move, which included consultation with NASA, the State Department and the White House, lets Moon Express deliver a robotic lander (including scientific experiments and cremated remains) to the lunar surface in 2017. The approval doesn't require any new laws, although NASA will advise the company during its mission.

It's an important milestone for private spaceflight in more ways than one. On top of representing the first clearance, it also eliminates some of the vagueness surrounding regulation for private flights beyond Earth. That's crucial when companies like SpaceX want to land on Mars as soon as 2018, and likely don't want to waste time finding someone who can rubber stamp their flights. Eventually, this sort of regulatory procedure should become a non-event -- it'll just be a formality whenever a private outfit wants to venture deeper into space.