NASA on Tuesday took a tentative step toward contracting with private companies to send scientific payloads to the surface of the Moon, beginning as early as next year. The space agency hasn't committed to funding these projects yet, but this may be a signal the agency is interested in a wider program to explore the Moon.
The agency released a request for information (RFI) for a "Small Lunar Surface Payload" program that recognizes the ability of several US companies to develop robots to land on the Moon. The timing coincides with the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which requires entrants to land a small spacecraft on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2017.
"NASA is asking for information about small instruments that could be placed on small lunar landers, and our interest is that we want to address our strategic knowledge gaps," said John Guidi, deputy director of the advanced exploration systems division within NASA's human spaceflight division.