NASA, America's world-renowned space agency, has announced that it is searching for partners from the private sector to help scour the moon for its mining potential.

NASA has embarked upon the preliminary stage of an ambitious program to conduct mining operations on the moon by seeking offers from potential collaborators in the private sector.

The storied space agency has accepted initial proposals for its Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown program (Catalyst), which will see one or more private firms earn contracts for the construction of lunar prospecting robots.

The construction of robots capable of prospecting for minerals on the surface of the moon will mark the opening stage of NASA’s ambitious lunar mining plans, which have the final goal of extracting vital resources that are proving to be exceedingly scarce on our own planet.

The contracts will be “Space Act Agreements” – a specific type of legal agreement unique to NASA which involves the provision of support by the space agency, but no direct funding from the government itself.

NASA was compelled to set up the Catalyst program in January due to the US government’s refusal to provide funding for its lunar mining ambitions. This distinguishes it from the agency’s other collaborations with the private sector – the most noteworthy of which has been the use of external contractors to convey supplies to the International Space Station – which enjoy the support of public monies.

Many scientists remain skeptical about the viability of space mining, with a Harvard research paper published just last month indicating that the vast majority of asteroids within the ambit of the earth would be highly ill-suited for commercial mining purposes.

NASA experts remain confident, however, that lunar mining is a viable undertaking as opposed to a mere science-fiction fantasy. Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s advanced exploration systems, said recent missions to the moon had already determined the presence of water and other relevant materials on the surface of our closest neighbour in the cosmos.

According to Crusan, the development of commercial lunar landing capabilities by the Catalyst program will “help prospect for and utilise these resources,” which will in turn  facilitate subsequent  commercial and scientific undertakings.

The deadline for final proposals for the Catalyst program is March 17, 2014, although NASA has not yet stated when the winning proposals will be announced.