Would you offer to buy something on the internet and then tell the seller not to bother delivering what you bought? Probably not. And yet, this is essentially the deal that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is proposing in its latest contract announcement.
This morning, in a solicitation for the "Purchase of Lunar Regolith and/or Rock Materials from Contractor" announced on the SAM.gov government contracts website, NASA sought bids from companies capable of reaching the moon to go there and gather "a small amount" of moon rocks (between 50 and 500 grams -- or a little more than a pound at most) for safekeeping.
The contractor will photograph the moon rocks it has collected and provide both an image of the collection and data on where it is located, and legally transfer ownership of the rocks to NASA. Then, the rocks will just sit there until NASA has a chance to collect them itself (or perhaps hire another contractor to do so).
NASA plans to pay winning bidder(s) 10% of the contract value upon awarding it, 10% more upon successful launch of a spacecraft to the moon, and then 80% upon collection of the moon rocks and transfer of ownership rights to NASA.
No contracts have been awarded for this purpose yet, nor any potential bidders identified. Logically, both space companies and mining companies can be expected to bid. NASA is asking interested contractors to submit their bids by Oct. 2 and hopes that the contractor(s) that it picks will be able to get to the moon and collect the rocks within the next four years.