Google Lunar X PRIZE Announced

X PRIZE Moon exhibit and logo at WIRED NextFest

Image caption: X PRIZE Moon exhibit and logo at WIRED NextFest

A robotic scavenger hunt to the moon is the next big space competition. The X PRIZE Foundation announced at Wired NextFest, along with representatives from Google, NASA, and one of the Apollo 11 astronauts, the Google Lunar X PRIZE. The largest incentive competition in history, US$30 million will go to the first and second privately funded teams to land a rover on the Moon.

US$20 million will be awarded to the first team who makes a soft landing on the surface of the Moon, drives a least 500 meters, and takes two sets of high definition video and images. The second team to accomplish the same tasks will be awarded US$5 million. In addition, $5 million will be awarded for bonus tasks, including finding artifacts from past mission, finding water ice at the lunar south pole, surviving one full lunar night of frigid temperatures, and driving a total of 5 kilometers instead of 500 meters.

On hand for the announcement were Dr. Peter Diamandis, X Prize chairman Robert K. Weiss, Google co-founder Larry Page, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) founder Elon Musk, and NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. Video messages from Google co-founder Sergey Brin and director James Cameron were shown. All expressed their support for the latest prize.

According to Page, science has a serious marketing problem. Competitions like the Google Lunar X PRIZE can help promote science and engineering, while continuing to push progress and economic growth. Page announced during his comments a new version of Google Moon with improved resolution and panoramas captured by Apollo.

Through video and speech, the X PRIZE Foundation recapped incentive competitions to date, including the 2004 culmination of the first X Prize for a private manned suborbital launch. Since then, several new prizes have been announced, including the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, Automotive X PRIZE, and upcoming educational, life science, and energy prizes. The latest prize is being marketed as “Moon 2.0”, with previous lunar activity through the final Apollo mission in 1972 referred to as Moon 1.0. While Moon 1.0 was a competition between the superpowers, Moon 2.0 is expected to open up the moon as a resource.

X PRIZE’s Weiss listed surface silicon and water ice as important lunar resources to enable manned missions of the Moon and potentially help with resource issues on the Earth, including energy concerns. Diamandis said the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be the first commercial steps to exploiting the resources of the Moon.

SpaceX’s Musk announced they will donate profits they would normally make on space launches to lower the cost of launch of X PRIZE competitors’ entries. Other organizations like SETI will provide services to competitors for reduced or no cost.

The setting for the announcement – Wired NextFest – allowed for a somewhat elaborate stage, including a remote controlled rover that joined Diamandis at one point, a life-sized model of an astronaut and lunar rover, and a huge model of the moon unveiled for the photo-op at the end of the presentations, with Diamandis exclaiming “Let the race begin!”. In additions to participating representatives and media, there were many students, parents, and teachers in attendance for the announcement.

A video dramatization of a private team winning the Google Lunar X PRIZE in the future included depictions of access to data returned by the mission via the Internet on laptops, iPhones, and video billboards. Currently, a new website – http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/ – has been created to host educational videos, tools, and hands-on activities for students.

X PRIZE Moon and rover exhibit at WIRED NextFest

Image caption: X PRIZE Moon and rover exhibit at the fourth annual WIRED NextFest

X PRIZE exhibit of Apollo astronaut and moon rover at the fourth annual WIRED NextFest

Image caption: X PRIZE exhibit of Apollo astronaut and moon rover at the fourth annual WIRED NextFest

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).

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