The moon is open for business. Over the past year, the Federal Aviation Administration has been in talks with a private space habitat company about licensing lunar parcel rights.
According to Reuters, in December the FAA granted permission to Bigelow Aerospace to land its inflatable space habitats on the moon. Bigelow will have exclusive rights to the territory where its habitats are located, as well as "related areas that might be tapped for mining, exploration, and other activities."
The company says it will begin testing its space habitat, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, aboard the International Space Station this year. From ISS, Bigelow will offer "free-flying orbital outposts" to anyone who wants to pay, be they government agencies, scientists, other private companies, or wealthy adventurers. By 2025, the company plans to begin a $12 billion project to set up bases on the moon's surface.
During the 1960s Space Race, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, preventing sovereign nations from claiming ownership of the moon. The treaty, however, left a loophole for entrepreneurs and private companies: It didn't ban commercial development and private property rights.
This means the game is on. Bigelow has taken the first step toward licensing prime lunar property, but it's not the only business with plans for earth's little buddy. For example, Moon Express, headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, is building a lander intended to be used to explore and mine the moon's resources. And Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company is working on plans to mine the moon's water and extract liquid hydrogen and oxygen to be used for rocket fuel. After mining, Shackleton says it will bring the resources to one of its forthcoming refueling stations in earth's orbit to facilitate further space missions.
But if the companies operating on the moon mainly will be sucking out its natural resources, tourism and travel will be boring. To make a trip worthwhile for the tourist and adventurer, consumer-facing companies will need to be there too. Below, check out Inc.'s picks for the startups best suited to set up lunar outposts.
Uber and Lyft
First off, how would you get from the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility to Apollo 12's landing site at the Ocean of Storms? Taxi and black car companies like Uber and Lyft could provide lunar transportation. Plus, the two companies can bring their battle to space and let the real games begin.
If you're going to the moon, you're going to want to take a few pictures and videos. GoPro's durable cameras can be attached to your helmet and would make the perfect space companion as you bounce around at low gravity. For some added fun, GoPro could make an obstacle course for its army of dedicated customers and thrill-seekers.
Blue Bottle and Stumptown
Everyone will be looking forward to eating astronaut ice cream and drinking Tang, but earthlings will still need their coffee fix up on the Big Cheese. Blue Bottle and Stumptown should build a lunar kiosk for all those space-faring caffeine freaks.
Medicine Man and G FarmaLabs
With all the risks involved, going to space may put some travelers on edge. To help ease anxiety, or just to enhance the experience, Denver-based legal cannabis company Medicine Man could set up a grow-operation and dispensary near the Sea of Vapours.