DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There was one small step for man - and now something not nearly as dramatic, but still important, one small step for robots. A Florida company that wants to put a robot on the moon got the government's OK to send that robot out into space. Here's NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell.
RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: If you want to send something to the moon, the first thing you have to do is paperwork, lots of it. That's what Moon Express Inc. is in the middle of right now. It plans to send a robot to the moon next fall. Naveen Jain is one of the company's founders.
NAVEEN JAIN: It's called MX-1E, and think of it as probably the size of a washing machine.
BICHELL: The lander is supposed to hop across the surface of the moon. And well, it's unclear exactly what it's supposed to do there. But Jain, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is overflowing with business ideas. He wants to harvest resources like helium-3, bring people's ashes to the moon and at the very least, revolutionize the wedding industry.
JAIN: When we bring the moon rocks, we change the whole foundation of engagement rings. If you love her enough, you give her the moon.
BICHELL: Moon Express recently cleared one bureaucratic hurdle called payload review. It means the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the robot to leave the planet. But it hasn't cleared the rocket that would actually carry the vehicle to the moon or the launch itself.
JOHN LOGSDON: This is more symbolic than substantive.
BICHELL: That's John Logsdon. He's a space policy specialist at George Washington University. Logsdon says this is the first time the FAA has cleared equipment from a private company to leave Earth with the moon as its intended destination.
LOGSDON: It symbolizes the government's willingness to allow private companies to begin the exploration of the solar system.
BICHELL: The company still has a long way to go before it actually sends anything into space. And it's just one of 16 companies gunning for a $20 million prize from Google to put a vehicle on the moon by the end of next year. Today, only world superpowers have landed on the moon. Rae Ellen Bichell, NPR News.
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