Forty-four years have passed since our last visit to the moon. Now it looks like we may be making a return trip as early as next year—this time under the direction of a private company, The New York Times reports.

On August 3, the Florida-based startup Moon Express announced that they’ve been given the go-ahead from the federal government to put a robotic lander on the moon’s surface. The mission would mark the first time in history a commercial spacecraft has traveled beyond Earth’s orbit.

The company hopes to have its lunar lander ready to launch by late 2017. Before that can happen, they still need to go through the process of building it and testing the rocket that will propel it into space. If the endeavor is successful, and if no one beats them to it, Moon Express will be eligible for the Google Lunar X Prize for landing the first commercial craft on the moon. Winning the full $20 million reward will also require them to move the lander at least 500 meters across the moon’s surface and transmit high-definition video and images to Earth.

The cash prize isn’t the only way the mission could be lucrative for the startup. The moon is rich in resources like titanium and platinum that have previously been unavailable for commercial use. Moon Express’ lander won’t be built for mining, but the mission opens the door for other companies to do so in the future.

[h/t The New York Times]

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