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Google hopes to give the private space sector another incentive to head to the moon

Google recently announced plans to offer up to $30 million to the first private organization that is able to safely land a robotic spacecraft on the Earth's moon.  Working alongside the X Prize Foundation -- a foundation known for offering challenges for monetary reward -- the contest will be open to any "nongovernmental entity" that is able to complete the mission.

Specifically, the craft will have to travel at least 500 meters on the Moon's surface before sending at least one gigabyte of images and videos back to researchers from the moon.  All spacecraft must have high-definition video and still cameras equipped to meet minimum requirements.  The first team to complete these tasks will receive the top prize of $20 million.

"The Google Lunar X Prize calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity," said Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation.  “Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation,” he added.

All teams entering the contest face an expensive, daunting task.  To accompany the construction of a spacecraft able to withstand the travel and photography portions of the contest, competitors must also pay to use or build a launch vehicle to get the craft to the moon.  Once there, remotely controlling the spacecraft to take photographs and videos will also prove to be difficult.
 
A $5M bonus will be offered to the company responsible for successfully landing on the moon and taking pictures.  Google will offer a $5M final bonus to the team's rover that can successfully complete other missions while on the moon - furthest distance traveled, finding water or ice, best endurance to the cold lunar nights, etc.

All interested parties have until 2012 to complete the required tasks to collect the prize.  If all teams are unable to complete the task, Google will extend the deadline to 2014, but the prize purse will also drop $5 million.

Google's official launch website can be accessed at GoogleLunarXprize.org.

National space programs are beginning to put more research and development funds back into missions that involve the moon.  The United States, China, Russia and India all have plans to either land on the moon or build a lunar base on the moon within the next 25 years.




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