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A real moon shot: Feds okay first private trip to the moon

If all goes according to plan, Moon Express will become the first private company to land a craft on the moon -- and lay claim to Google's Lunar XPrize.

Now Playing: Watch this: US approves first private moon mission

The US government has approved a private company to land on the moon for the first time.

Moon Express disclosed on its website today that it had received the signoff from the Federal Aviation Administration to send an unmanned rover to the lunar surface. If successful, the 2017 mission would allow the company to lay claim to Google's Lunar XPrize, the $20 million bounty the search giant has put up to jump-start this very sort of private space exploration. (It has already secured $1.25 million in prize money based on its incremental success to date.)

For Moon Express, the mission would be the beginning of its eventual business plan to mine rare elements from the Earth's moon.

While that sounds like science fiction, the field already has competition in the form of Planetary Resources, a startup looking to mine asteroids. And the moon may be just the start: Elon Musk's SpaceX includes "the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets" in its short mission statement, and the entrepreneur has already made the case for human trips to Mars.

Read up on our earlier coverage of the Lunar XPrize, and watch 2015 video of the Moon Express lander being tested below.

Now Playing: Watch this: Google Lunar XPrize: Lander testing with Moon Express...