Engineers claim that in just 1,000 days they can safely build and fire a humanoid-like machine into space and onto our nearest planet.
It would cost less than $200million (£124million), plus $250million (£156million) for the rocket, substantially less than the $150billion (£93billion) it would be to send an astronaut.
The engineers behind it also hope that the sight of a robot walking on the Moon would inspire a new generation of scientists, just as the Apollo landings did 40 years ago.
Project M has been considered a 'guerrilla effort' by NASA engineers due to the lack of official enthusiasm for returning to the Moon.
As a result they have had to use discretionary funds, barter with engineering companies, trade with specialists and persuade NASA units to co-operate.
The project has also been helped by building on existing technology and modifying it rather than starting afresh.
Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors, will be on board the shuttle Discovery, which is due to liftoff today.
That will be the first humanoid robot in space and will deal with the housekeeping chores so the astronauts can focus on their work.
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