As part of its ambitious Artemis program to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, the USA space agency said it is soliciting help from commercial sources to gain more information about the environment of the lunar surface.
"The requirements we've outlined are that a company will collect a small amount of Moon "dirt" or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an "in-place" transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA", Bridenstine wrote. The collected material will become the sole property of NASA, and the agency is hoping to secure samples by 2024.
Under NASA's Artemis program, President Donald Trump's administration envisions a return of American astronauts to the moon by 2024.
"The bottom line is we are going to buy some lunar soil for the objective of it demonstrating that it can be done", Bridenstine said during an event hosted by the Secure World Foundation, a space policy organization.
"It's time to establish the regulatory certainty to extract and trade space resources", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet.
NASA in May set the stage for a global debate over the basic principles governing how people will live and work on the moon, releasing the main tenets of what it hopes will become an worldwide pact for moon exploration called the Artemis Accords.
The contract doesn't actually involve getting to the Moon itself - a feat only achieved by the national space agencies of three countries - but instead envisages companies designing a robot that NASA or major private sector players can then launch.
NASA put out a call asking companies to submit their proposals and says it's open to working with companies outside of the US.
NASA on Thursday announced it was in the market for Moon rocks, and wants to pay companies to scoop out the dirt, take a photo, and then have it ready for collection by a future mission.
Audi displays the Audi Lunar Quattro, a prototype of a lunar rover it wishes to send to the moon, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 11, 2016.
Companies would set their own bids, and be paid 20 percent up front with the remainder upon successful completion of their mission.