Reuters

NEWS BRIEF In a space first, the U.S. government gave approval Wednesday for a private company to fly beyond Earth’s orbit and land on the moon in 2017.

Moon Express first submitted its request to pursue the lunar mission in April. The decision, made in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, and NASA, will allow Moon Express to send a robotic, suitcase-sized spacecraft to the moon for a two-week mission.

This will be the first time a non-government entity has flown beyond Earth’s orbit and landed on the moon. It is expected to hold commercial cargo and a number of experiments, which include cremated human remains.

Moon Express said in a statement Wednesday:

This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon’s surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon's valuable resources.

The mission is expected to establish a legal framework for future private-sector expeditions into space. In April, Space Exploration Technologies announced its own aspirations to send a spacecraft to Mars.

Previously, no government agency had the authority to oversee private missions to space, though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty stipulates that the United States is responsible for any missions into space by its own non-government entities.

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