The Internet firm Google is providing $30-million to the X-Prize Foundation, a Santa Monica, Calif., charity, for a new effort to encourage private organizations to develop a robotic spacecraft that can successfully land on the moon.
The Google Lunar X Prize is open to nongovernmental teams of scientists and inventors around the world. A grand prize of $20-million will be awarded to the first team to land a vehicle on the moon by 2012. The craft must successfully roam the lunar surface for a distance of 500 meters and transmit back a specified “mooncast,” which would include high-definition video and other data.
An additional prize of $5-million will go to a second team that completes this task by 2014. As much as $5-million in bonus prize money will be awarded to teams whose vehicles complete additional tasks, such as roaming beyond 500 meters or discovering water or ice.
Google is providing all of the prize money, while the foundation will oversee the contest. The X Prize Foundation develops cash-award programs designed to spur scientific and technological innovation.
“It’s been over 30 years since man has been on the moon, and a lot of people think it’s time to go back,” says Tom Vander Ark, president of the X Prize Foundation. “We’re calling it ‘the space race for the next generation.’ Government space flight is becoming more and more risk averse and more and more expensive, and we’ve got a generation of kids that really don’t even think about the potential of space exploration and the science involved.”
In 2004 the X Prize Foundation awarded the $10-million Ansari X Prize to Mojave Aerospace Ventures, an American firm that successfully completed the first privately financed manned suborbital space flight.
More than 25 teams competed for the Ansari X Prize, and Mr. Vander Ark would like to see at least as many compete for the Google Lunar X Prize. “This is a pretty inspiring goal, and we anticipate a great deal of attention,” he says.
The foundation is currently offering the $10-million Archon X Prize for Genomics for the first team that can sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days. A prize program for the creation of an automobile capable of getting 100 miles per gallon of gas is also in development.