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Meet the Man Who Wants to Mine the Moon

moon express  lander

The Moon Express lunar lander -- seen here in an undated artist's illustration -- weighs in at just under 200 pounds (90 kg). (Moon Express Inc.)

The moon is made of far more valuable stuff than green cheese. And one man wants to capitalize on that fact.

NASA, which ended America's space shuttle program in June, says it wants to privatize spaceflight. Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, Inc., wants to go a step further: He wants to privatize the moon itself. 

Jain's company plans to piggyback on private shuttle flights, using them to carry his lunar landers and mining platforms to the moon.

"People ask, why do we want to go back to the moon? Isn't it just barren soil?" Jain told FoxNews.com. "But the moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective."

Green cheese indeed -- there's cash in them lunar hills!

Our nearest neighbor in the sky holds a ransom in precious minerals, Jain explained: Twenty times more titanium and platinum than anywhere on earth, not to mention helium 3, a rare isotope of helium that many feel could be the future of energy on Earth and in space.

Beyond mineral resources, Jain imagines a variety of ways to capitalize on the public's lunar love.

"No one has ever captured people's fascination with the moon," he told FoxNews.com. "What if, say, we take a picture of your family on the moon and project it back to you? Or take DNA up there?"

His company, which calls itself MoonEx, was awarded a contract as part of NASA's $10 million Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program, and is shooting for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize as well. Jain believes the NASA contract will allow his company to start mining operations on the moon, something he says MoonEx can do as soon as 2013. 

"Perpetual ownership of private or government assets in space or on other bodies is a well defined, documented and practiced aspect of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty,” explained company CEO Bob Richards in a recent blog post. 

In other words, the moon's resources are essentially waiting to be claimed -- all you need is a way to get there. 

In June of this year, MoonEx's lunar lander successfully completed a flight test at the Hover Test Facility in NASA's Ames Research Center, according to the facility's quarterly magazine.

A NASA spokesman did not respond to FoxNews.com requests for information.

"The end of the shuttle program wasn't the end of the moon mission, it was simply passing the baton from the public to the private sector," Jain told FoxNews.com.

He believes it will cost a pittance -- under a hundred million dollars -- to go back to the moon.

"There's a tremendous amount of waste in the government. Private companies can do things better," he said.

 From the Moon to Energy and Education?

Jain -- a billionaire who made his fortunes first with Microsoft, then with dotcom-era yellow page site InfoSpace Inc. -- believes in the power of creative thinking. In addition to MoonEx, he's the CEO of information-services company Intelius and co-chair of education and global development at the X Prize Foundation.

 "To have the biggest impact, you have to solve the problem as an entrepreneur," Jain told FoxNews.com, summarizing a speech he gave Monday in New York at Pivotcon 2011, a conference on the rise of social media.

"We want to solve the problem of energy on Earth by using the moon as the eighth continent," he told FoxNews.com.

And its not as hard as you might think. The highest expense lies in getting to the moon, he explained. Going from the surface of the moon into orbit is easy. And a solar sail can drive a capsule containing mined resources back  to earth orbit and down to the surface.

"It's rocket science but it's well understood rocket science," he said.

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.