Florida startup Moon Express is setting its sights high: ambitiously shooting to become the first private company to launch a small, unmanned craft to the moon before the year's out. A big success could pave the way for scheduled flights to deliver scientific and exploration equipment, to exploit lunar soil resources and commercial potential. In a recent interview with AFP, CEO and co-founder Robert Richards acknowledged that it is a "very optimistic date given that the rocket has yet to achieve orbit and given we are still building our vehicle." The race to try this first flight on a tight deadline was motivated at least in part by the $20 million offered by the Google Lunar X-prize in 2007. The condition: be a private entity and launch a craft to the moon's surface by December 31, 2017. Another condition will be, once on the moon, to move the ship or a robot on board, over 500 yards (meters), and to transmit a video and photographs back to Earth. For now, Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express is one of five finalists in this contest on the 33 in the running—and the one most tipped to win.
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