Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google Lunar X PRIZE Announced!

My first question: Where is Microsoft? Where is Bill Gates? You guys don't want to become anachronisms, do you?? It's time to step up to the plate ...

Well, now that I'm back at the computer, there are already a ton of sites, videos, and discussions about the new Google Lunar X PRIZE. Since I don't have much time, I think it's best for me to just provide some links to what's already out there, for the time being. In all likelihood I'll add to this post later, since I have some thoughts of my own about it, and there's more to link to than I can right now.

First for the main site: Google Lunar X PRIZE - Moon 2.0. I like how they make it sound like a software release, with the implication that the first round was just a test version, and this one will be much better (private and government together, sustained, etc). There is too much on this site to describe, and I haven't even seen much of it yet, so you'll just have to explore on your own.

Here's an X PRIZE YouTube Channel with a lot of videos about the new prize: X PRIZE YouTube. Some of the videos there include:

Google Lunar X PRIZE - or "GLXP" - introduction video, which gives an introduction to the prize, shows a scenario of a team winning the rover prize (including the bonus prizes for things like surviving a lunar night and imaging past lunar mission hardware), and gives some motivation for why the people on the Earth need the Moon to solve problems here.

Earth Offshort Island - Part 1 - an educational piece about the Moon, emphasizing the interactions and interdependencies between the Moon and the Earth (and of course the Earth's fragile biosphere). Environmental applications are described, such as Solar Power Satellites built using resources launched from the Moon, which is easier to launch from, in energy terms, than the Earth. Other Lunar resources that would make lunar development easier, and may be economical resources, such as oxygen and the possibility of ice, are described.

Here are some words of support for the prize from James Cameron and Arthur C. Clarke.

Now for a number of blog posts with conversations and comments about the new prize:

NASASpaceFlight has started a thread on the prize with some technical speculation about how one might win the prize without blowing the bank. The posts are pouring in even as I type.

SpaceForAll - on the Google Lunar Legacy, a way to get a picture to the Moon via the rover competitors, and at the same time to support the Lunar Rover Prize and educational activities.

RLV News - introduces us to the Lunar Prize. There's a heated debate about the value of the prize. My point of view closely matches that of, but in a more easy-going way.

RLV News - brings us a number of good links to more articles about the prize. The interesting and controversial comments continue.

Cosmic Log has what I think is the best overview of the prize, and the background leading to the prize, that I've seen so far. Impressive. There are some rather loopy comments, but the article goes into so much detail that you may need even need to bother with them.

That article gave a hint about a Carnegie Mellon University team that's already planning to enter the competition. CMU is well-known for its robotics capabilities. Here's their news release.
MSNBC also has another article on the prize. This one has some interesting comments by Pete Worden on NASA's role as an "interested observer" for the prize. I guess NASA is too cash-strapped with Ares I to get into the prize, but Dr. Worden is, I think, the most credible NASA spokesperson for talking about low-cost lunar missions and working with commercial companies like Google.

Rand at Transterrestrial Musings isn't too impressed, since he's more interested in human space flight. However, he does see the benefits of the prize. Personally, I'm more interested in robotic space flight, because I'm interested in advancing all sorts of existing commercial and government robotic space applications (comsats, GPS, remote sensing, rovers, and on and on). I'm also into computers (even though I'm not into spending a lot of time making this blog fancy). It's just a personal thing, and I certainly am pushing all out, with skepticism in the short term but confidence in the long term, for the commercial human space flight folks, whether NewSpace or, if their accountants get interested, traditional big companies. I'm sure the X PRIZE folks are supporters of this, too, but Google may be more excited about the automation and searching of a lunar lander.

Personal Spaceflight discusses an article in the Huffington Post with an early sneak preview about the prize. There's a family connection that might have helped get the word in that direction out a bit early.

I think this must be the Huffington Post article just described. This one goes into some of the educational benefits of having this challenge. It should inspire a lot of interest in science and math for today's upcoming generation, which is more interested in things like Google and the possibility of getting rich through entrepreneurial work and cautious risk-taking, just as the generation of current leaders were inspired by the original, ground-breaking large government human space program. There are a number of educational efforts associated with the prize.

Yes, it is true; I read the article the first time around. Mark from Curmudgeons Corner had a detailed article that advocated a space prize for a lunar lander. Maybe he should write a few more articles like that and see what happens? It can't hurt ...

Here are some articles without the discussions:

NASA Watch "Google Sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a Space Race for a New Generation" - Press release about the prize from the X PRIZE Foundation. It gives an overview of the goals of the prize, rewards for achieving specific objectives, and help that might be gained from SpaceX and the Allen Telescope Array. This is a good place to start to learn about the prize.

Wired has several articles about the prize:

Google Offers $20 Million X Prize to Put Robot on Moon - This goes back to the days when Google headquarters had a fundraising effort for the X PRIZE Foundation, complete with the replica of SpaceShipOne. Apparently this was a good time for some "networking", and the Foundation wound up convincing the Google team to sponsor the prize. I thought Larry Page would have been the Google founder most interested in the prize, but this article makes it sound like it was Sergei Brin. (They both have space interests and connections). I like the closing paragraph. It would be good if a lot more companies started thinking this way when they're ready to spend on advertising:

"Which raises the question: What's in it for Google? Lunar data centers? Google Maps Street View for Tranquility Base? For the record, Mountain View's corporate feet are planted squarely on terra firma. "Companies today spend more on stadiums and sailboat races than we will spend on this," says Brin, who was barely out of diapers back in Moscow when the last — Soviet, as it happens — moon lander, itself a robot craft, sent a scoop of soil back to Earth three decades ago. "Expanding science and technology is a far better way to reflect Google's values," he says. Plus there's the possibility of putting a Google logo on the moon."

Also, yes, the total prize money is $30M, but the big prize for first place is $20M as the article title says. There is $5M for second place, and $5M for bonus challenges.

Your Face on the Moon, Thanks to X Prize Foundation - Explains how you can help the X PRIZE Foundation, and at the same time send a picture to the Moon, if your competitor in the challenge makes it there.

How to Win $20 Million - Gives a big, commented pictures, and step-by-step instructions, for how to build that lunar rover and get it to the Moon to win the money.