Google Sparks New Moon Race with $20 Million Prize

University students and private companies are racing to build the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. Google and the X Prize Foundation are offering $20 million to the winner.

What's the Latest Development?

Google has teamed up with the X Prize Foundation to offer a $20 million prize to the first private organization to land a spacecraft on the moon, move it 500 meters and send video back to Earth as proof. "The first to register for the competition was Odyssey Moon Limited, which is Richard Branson's partner in bidding for NASA contracts to carry scientific apparatus around the Earth." Perhaps the strangest design comes from Team Puli in Hungary, whose craft looks like a sea urchin and uses many pipe 'feet' to move around. To keep the pressure up, the prize must be claimed in the next three years.  

What's the Big Idea?

The competition is offering a further $10 million prize for accomplishing more complex tasks, including travelling at night (when there is no sun to power solar cells), finding ice or landing next to an old NASA Apollo lander (this last task has upset some who want to preserve the condition of the historic moon landing sites). The competition itself is evidence of a sea change in space exploration, which will be increasingly given over to the private sector in the years ahead. Commentators said the private crafts look much less sturdy than NASA technology, but that their purposesimply moving 500 metersis less demanding. 

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