AN INDIAN-born billionaire believes his company’s mission to explore the Moon and enable humans to live there could lead to world peace.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Naveen Jain revealed his bold plans to allow people to take a holiday on the Moon’s surface, buy space rocks and use its water and minerals to power the Earth.
The US-based businessman’s company Moon Express is the first company to win approval from the US government for the mission to send an unmanned craft to explore the surface next year and beam images and video back to Earth.
His long-term goal is building a colony on the Moon for humans to live, similar to 2015 Hollywood film Martian where Matt Damon’s character survives on Mars by growing vegetables.
Jain, who was raised in Uttar Pradesh and now lives in Florida, said the metals and minerals the Moon has could see an end to conflicts over land.
The father-of-three, who has the largest private collection of meteorites in the world, said “Entrepreneurs could bring world peace. What do we fight over? We fight over land, water, energy.
“All we have to do is look up and see the abundance of land because we are a tiny blue dot in our own galaxy. There are billions of galaxies. It’s a matter of technology making it possible to access this land. It is a matter of converting it, once you can get access to this energy there will be no scarcity.
“What if you are able to build a solar power above the clouds to microwave the energy down so there is an abundance of fresh water and energy on the Earth – if that does not bring world peace, I don’t know what will.”
Jain has launched numerous companies since arriving in the US with five dollars in his pocket in the 1980s. He was an executive for the Microsoft software giant for seven years before setting up firms in the telecoms, internet, healthcare and space industry.
The entrepreneur founded Moon Express in 2010 and the company received a boost last year when president Barack Obama signed a law that will allow it to own any minerals that it takes during its space missions.
Jain said the Moon’s minerals are worth trillions of US dollars and he has a waiting list of customers wanting to have their ashes scattered on the surface, which would cost them between $5 and $8 million.
He said there are a string of revenue streams it can focus on to fund its ambition of creating a lunar city, including charging people to put their footprint on the surface.
“In the short-term, to fund the long-term ambition of colonies, we will also possibly bring the moon rocks which are more valuable than any diamond. Everyone gives someone a diamond. If you love her enough, give her the moon – don’t promise her the moon, give me the moon.
“The second phase is a honeymoon, taking your ‘honey to the moon’, not a honeymoon in Hawaii or Paris. The Moon has a tremendous amount of water, it means hydration, oxygen rocket fuel, fuel for humanity. We can power this planet for generations to come.”
The 57-year-old added: “When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, if he asked people what they would like to do, not a single person would have said throwing birds at pigs, which is what everyone is doing with Angry Birds.
“We have yet to think about the Angry Birds or Pokemon Go of the moon. We may think of them as bizarre, but that’s exactly what has captured people’s imagination.”
The space race has been hotting up in recent years, with businessman Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX planning to organise space trips using reusable rockets. British businessman Richard Branson’s firm Virgin Galactic aims to offer tourist flights to orbit the Earth in the next five years.
The costs of a Moon landing have plummeted from around one billion dollars a decade ago. Jain said his mission in 2017 will be around $6-7 million and a trip to the Moon could one day be the price of a first class plane ticket.
He believes being given permission to launch the mission shifts the power from governments to entrepreneurs. “The best way I can describe why I got into this, to explore the resources of the moon, is rephrasing John F Kennedy: ‘We chose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s a great business’.
“Landing on the moon is essentially to prove that a small group of people are now capable of doing things what were only possible by superpowers before. That shows that in the next coming decade, the superpowers are not going to be the countries like the UK, Germany or France; it is going to be the entrepreneurs that challenges their countries’ power.
“My dream is every entrepreneur watching that event happen will be inspired to find their own shot; finding a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, or the Zika virus. or transforming their society.”
Jain is not from a business background. His father was a public works department official in the city of Meerut in north India, while his sister and brother did a PhD in maths.
He said he always sets up a company in an industry where he has little knowledge in order to spark change. “My fundamental belief is once you become an expert in any field, you become an incrementalist,” Jain explained.
“You are only able to incrementally improve something by ten per cent. If you want to make more change, you have to look at the industry you know very little about so you are able to challenge the foundation that the experts take for granted.
“My first company was in mobile phones in the 1990s. We are talking about using the phones to pay and get coupons, these were transformational ideas because I had no idea what smartphones were going to look at.
“The next company was looking at information commerce, when everyone thought information on the internet was going to be free. We showed that if you are able to solve a problem people will pay for that information. My fifth company is in the healthcare business, transforming how people live without the need for medication.”
Another inspiration is his wife and three children, who are budding entrepreneurs. And Jain gave his wife a unique gift for a milestone anniversary too.
“On our 25th wedding anniversary, I gave my wife a moon rock in a pendant. That was one of the most amazing things she has seen.
“My oldest child started a business when he was 16, after graduating it was acquired. My daughter graduated from Stanford University [in California] and was on the board for women and business; she works for the United Nations in New York. My youngest is at Stanford.
“They are inspired by what entrepreneurship brings to the people, they are doing amazing things to change the trajectory.”
“It is about imagination, dream so big that people think you’re crazy. Dream big so what looks like science fiction today becomes science reality tomorrow.
“Having three wonderful children who have gone out to become entrepreneurs in their own right has been the biggest achievement. He concluded: “It is not about leaving a great country for our children but about leaving great children for our country.”