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Naveen Jain

Naveen Jain is looking to save planet Earth by reaching for the moon. The Seattle Internet entrepreneur emerged today as the co-founder of a new startup company called Moon Express, which is attempting to “blaze a trail to the moon and establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit.” Jain previously co-founded the Bellevue Internet search engine InfoSpace, but who knew that the former Microsoft manager wanted to explore actual space?

We certainly didn’t see this one coming, though it is getting harder and harder to be surprised by Jain’s activities. (A press release says that the entrepreneur also is exploring ways to develop neuroscience based multi-sensory video games; create bio-factories to reduce food shortages and utilize microbes to create clean drinking water, among other things).

Moon Express, which has already won a $10 million NASA lunar contract and is a contender for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, is building new vehicles to deliver payloads to the moon and search the lunar surface for precious materials.

“From an entrepreneur’s perspective, the moon has never truly been explored,” Jain tells the Los Angeles Times. “We think it could hold resources that benefit Earth and all humanity.”

Jain is serving as a chairman of the Silicon Valley company, but he’s not the only technology executive on board. Barney Pell, the head architect on Microsoft’s Bing search engine and founder of search engine Powerset, also is an investor and co-founder. The CEO is Bob Richards, a founder of International Space University.

In an editorial in the Huffington Post, Jain lays out a case why private exploration of the moon could help solve the country’s energy problems. He also notes that the U.S. is falling behind Russia and China in the quest to explore outer space, a failure that could have serious implications on energy resources. He writes:

Moon exploration promises to yield new energy sources that could finally break our hold on fossil fuel, and our overdependence on sometimes hostile nations that control its supply. But this time around, we don’t need to rely on government funding to fuel Moon exploration — we can encourage private entrepreneurs to take on this role.

Jain continued, noting that there are limitations to entrepreneurs “leading the charge to the moon.”

For one thing, ownership is always a point of discussion — but the fact is that “everyone” and “no one” owns the Moon. Much like when mining resources from international waters (as in fishing), entrepreneurs would need to respect the rights of other business and government players. There is legal precedent for explorers finding and keeping resources that they have uncovered via private investment.

In addition to InfoSpace, Jain also co-founded Intelius, a Bellevue company which has gotten into hot water over marketing tactics related to its online background check service. [UPDATE:  Jain also encountered numerous legal problems while at InfoSpace related to share transfers between a family trust].

UPDATE: In a email to GeekWire, Jain explained a little more as to why he’s excited about lunar exploration. He wrote:

“I started Moon Express because I think mankind is standing on the threshold of finding precious minerals and metals on the moon that in the  future will power everything from electric car batteries to aerospace… and this is just beginning. The non-radioactive isotope, Helium-3, which is rare on Earth, but believed to be more abundant on the Moon, is sought  for use in nuclear fusion research.

I believe we are about to uncover the Moon’s many vital resources  including large quantities of Platinum that will solve Earth’s present resource and energy problems and make a better world for our children and for generations to come.  China and Russia have already announced their plans to mine the moon and I think that it’s our Sputnik moment and entrepreneurs need to focus on finding these resources to significantly improve the quality of life on earth.”

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