Google Offers $20 Million X Prize to Put Robot on Moon

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    (straight from the Wired page!)

    “Thus was born the Google Lunar X Prize, the latest and, well, farthest-out of the foundation’s efforts to bolt competitive afterburners onto some of mankind’s signature quests. Three years ago, SpaceShipOne won the first X Prize — officially the Ansari X Prize, named for the family of software entrepreneurs that underwrote it. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and serial aeronaut Burt Rutan collected $10 million for building the world’s first privately funded reusable manned spacecraft. Since then, Diamandis has announced competitions for ultra-rapid gene sequencing and hyper fuel efficient vehicles. This latest challenge: Put a robotic lander on the moon, take a spin across the lunar landscape, and beam back visuals — with minimal or no government assistance. Pull that off before anyone else and the galaxy’s richest, most audacious Internet company will hand over $20 million. You can win up to $5 million more for extras like traversing greater distances, visiting historic landing sites, and surviving the lunar night. You come in second if you land safely but fail to rove, and there’s a $5 million consolation prize. (No prize for guessing the name of the competition’s official Web video service.)

    The challenge goes beyond merely reaching the lunar surface. Pound for pound, putting anything on the moon — let alone sending back panoramic photos and YouTube clips — makes even manned suborbital flight look like a walk on the Mojave runway. Winning will require the biz-dev skills to muster funding and the technical savvy to manage squirrelly orbital mechanics, remote-control robotics, and bring-your-own bandwidth. Sure, the Russians made the first soft lunar landing more than 40 years ago, using Cold War era hardware. And yes, today you can fire up an iPhone and check the view from NASA’s rovers on the Red Planet, another 90 million or so miles farther out in the cosmos. What you can’t do — at least for now — is go off-planet without the kind of boondoggle budget that only governments can cough up. “How cool would it be,” Diamandis says, “to do what NASA does at a tenth the cost? Or a hundredth? The technologies are there. What we need is a competitive model that can make it happen.”

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