Gary Lai’s resume features his status as chief architect and pioneer spaceflier at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — but when he received a Pathfinder Award this weekend at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, the veteran engineer highlighted a lesser-known job, as co-founder and chief technology officer of a moon-centric startup that’s still in stealth mode.
“We aim to be the first company that harvests natural resources from the moon to use here on Earth,” Lai told an audience of about 400 banquet-goers on Oct. 28. “We’re building a completely novel approach to extract those resources, efficiently, cost-effectively and also responsibly. The goal is really to create a sustainable in-space economy.”
The Tacoma, Wash.-based startup, called Interlune, has actually been around for about three years — but it’s been shrouded in secrecy long enough that Lai can still be considered a co-founder. Lai said the other founders include Rob Meyerson, who was Blue Origin’s president from 2003 to 2018; and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a geologist who set foot on the moon in 1972 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 1983.
Lai noted that Interlune recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation. That $246,000 grant supports efforts to develop a system that could sort out moon dirt by particle size.
Neither Lai nor Meyerson, who was in the audience cheering him on, was willing to say much more about Interlune, due to the fact that the venture is still in stealth. But a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that the venture raised $1.85 million in seed funding last year from five unnamed investors.
The SEC form also names longtime aerospace industry executive Indra Hornsby as an officer of the company, and lists Estes Park, Colo., as Interlune’s headquarters. However, Hornsby’s LinkedIn page says she’s currently an adviser and a former chief operating officer. Other documents indicate that Tacoma, Meyerson’s home base, has become Interlune’s HQ.
Lai said that he would continue to advise Blue Origin on a part-time basis, focusing on advanced concepts that include the Blue Moon lunar landing system. But going forward, Lai plans to give more attention to what humans will be doing on the moon after they land.