Moon Express Leadership Includes Leading Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs

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Bob Richards’ lunar startup, Moon Express, emerged from five months in stealth mode on Monday to announce the involvement of two — count ‘em, two — prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in its effort to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Naveen Jain announced during the annualExplorers Clube Awards Dinner in New York that he co-founded Moon Express with Richards and serves as the chairman of Moon Express. In a separate announcement, the California-based comp;any also revealed that Barney Pell is Barney Pell will serve as co-founder, vice-chairman and chief technology officer.

The following information is taken from Moon Express’s press releases.

Naveen Jain

Naveen Jain is a philanthropist, entrepreneur and a technology pioneer. He is founder of Intelius and InfoSpace, as well as Co-Chairman of Education and Global Development at the X PRIZE Foundation. He is a trustee of the board of Flow Mobile and coastal aviation software and a member of Pacific Council on International Policy. Naveen Jain has been awarded many honors for his entrepreneurial successes and leadership skills including “Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Albert Einstein Technology Medal” for pioneers in technology, “Top 20 Entrepreneurs” by Red Herring, “Six People Who Will Change the Internet” by Information Week. His success with Intelius has earned such accolades as “Best New Company” by the American Business Awards, Puget Sound Business Journal’s “One of Washington’s Top Three Best Workplaces”, “Rising Star” in Deloitte & Touche’s Technology Fast 500 Program, “America’s Top 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies” by Inc. Magazine and has been listed amongst the top 15 Corporate Philanthropists in the community.

Jain is currently focused on finding ways to use advances in science to solve some of the problems that on the surface look like infrastructural problems. Naveen is in the process of setting up an incentive prize challenge to develop “Digital Doctor” (AI based expert system) to improve access to primary care physician around the world. He is also exploring ways to develop a Neurometric system to create better learners and to develop Neuroscience based multi-sensory video games that are effective and additive to teach students skills like math, science and history. Naveen continues to believe that we should be able to create bio-factories to reduce shortage of food and use Synthetic biology to create Microbes that can help with clean water and to generate energy from plentiful resources like ocean water.

Barney Pell

Pell is a technology and product strategist, angel investor and advisor, and artificial intelligence (AI) researcher.

Pell spent almost a decade working at the NASA Ames Research Center prior to becoming a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur.  He was a technology leader at NASA, managing an organization responsible for innovation in autonomous systems, human-centered computing, spoken dialog systems, search, collaboration, and the semantic web. Highlights of innovations during Dr. Pell’s career at NASA include mission critical software to support planning and science collaboration for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission; Clarissa, the first spoken dialog system in space; and the development of the Remote Agent, the first artificial intelligence (AI) system to fly onboard and control a deep space probe. Remote Agent is widely considered as one of the top achievements in the history of Artificial Intelligence and won NASA’s “software of the year” award in 1999.

Pell left NASA in 2005 to serve as an Entrepreneur-In Residence at Mayfield, a top Venture Capital firm. While at Mayfield, he founded Powerset, a provider of a natural-language based search engine that read each sentence in Wikipedia and answered user queries in plain English. Powerset was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 to help Microsoft with its new search engine, Bing, where Dr. Pell is currently Chief Architect of Bing Local Search.

Pell is also an early investor in Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and believes we are on the verge of an epic new era in commercial space exploration, when new public-private partnerships will form the new paradigm for a rational and sustainable space infrastructure.  “As with the opening of every frontier, public-partnerships play an essential role in attracting risk capital to new ventures pursuing new markets,” Barney stated. “Moon Express has the people, experienced partners and financial resources lined up to blaze a trail to the Moon and establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit.”

Pell has served as a principal of several internet software companies. He was Vice President of Strategy for Whizbang! Labs, a pioneer in machine learning and natural language processing for search engines. Whizbang was most well-known for creation of the Flipdog job search engine, acquired by Monster.com. He was also Chief Strategist and Vice-President of Business Development for StockMaster.com, a provider of internet-based stock-market analysis tools, which was acquired by Red Herring Communications.

Pell also serves as an active angel investor, advisor or board member to several startup companies and nonprofits, including: Green Trail Energy, Getaround, Robotex, Halcyon Molecular, SpeakWithMe, and CrowdFlower. Dr. Pell’s startups have a history of successful exits, including: Appjet (Google), Aardvark (Google), Hot Potato (Facebook), Etacts (Salesforce.com), and Movity (Trulia). He was also an early advisor to LinkedIn, which has filed for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and recently acquired its hundred-millionth member.

Pell received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and his B.S. degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was a National Merit Scholar. Throughout his career he has helped bring advanced technology and big ideas into real applications and markets that change people’s lives.

Company Background

Moon Express is a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company created to establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit.Selected last fall by NASA, Moon Express was awarded a lunar data services contract worth up to $10M, for the initial delivery order of the “Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD)” program.  In addition, the X PRIZE Foundation announced Moon Express as a competitor for the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE, a competition to place a robot on the Moon’s surface that travels 500 meters and transmits high definition video, images and data back to Earth. Moon Express will be sending a series of robotic spacecraft to the Moon for ongoing exploration and commercial development.

It was NASA’s creation and rapid deployment of its Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data program that convinced Naveen to invest in Moon Express. “NASA’s proactive efforts to embrace the commercial sector have created an environment of balanced risk and opportunity reminiscent of America’s efforts to open its western frontiers to commerce,” he said. “Moon Express is aptly named to honor the historic public-private railway partnerships that led to national growth and prosperity, but instead of crossing the frontiers, with Moon Express we will be crossing the stars.”

Naveen believes in the boundless economic opportunities on the Moon and is a passionate advocate for space exploration. He sees the emergence of commercial space mimicking the microcomputer revolution in many ways and has natural synergies with the foundations of Silicon Valley culture.

“With NASA and White House policy favoring commercial partnerships, the time is now to build on this momentum and extend the power of commercial entrepreneurship beyond Earth orbit,” Naveen said. “The emergence of commercial space mimics the global expansion for commercial applications led by every explorer from Galileo to Columbus. Commercial exploration is part of what drives us to discover new resources, so in a sense we share the same DNA with those early explorers.”

So will Moon exploration save the Earth? Naveen replies, “I believe that what we find there will improve the quality of life for all of us here on Earth.”

Pell believes very strongly in the economic potential the Moon. “The Moon is Earth’s eight continent,” he said. “We have barely begun to explore the lunar surface and are already finding compelling evidence of resources that are very important to Earth.”

Pell  is excited to apply his expertise in artificial intelligence, search and spacecraft control to the exploration of the Moon and the search for lunar resources that can be of benefit to Earth.  “It’s highly motivating for me to come back to my roots of space exploration as a commercial space entrepreneur at a time when the Moon is revealing compelling new secrets,” he said. “My career has been largely devoted to space and search technology and I can think of no more important place to focus my attention than on searching for new energy and resources for planet Earth.”

All three Moon Express founders also work together as trustees of Singularity University based at the NASA Ames Research Park.