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Two more teams want Google Lunar X Prize; Phoenix Mars lander continues to study Mars; and Richard Garriott heads into space for the second time

Students from the University of Central Florida and a Malaysian aerospace company are the two latest teams to join the Google Lunar X Prize competition that is up for grabs by the X Prize Foundation.  The Google Lunar X Prize challenges researchers and scientists to create a privately-funded spacecraft that is capable of landing on the moon's surface and complete a few tasks.  Once on the moon, each craft must move at least a third of a mile, then send images, videos and data back to researchers on Earth before being able to claim the prize.

"We are thrilled to add our first team from Florida and our second team from Malaysia to the roster of competitors," X Prize Foundation spokespeople said.  "Both these teams will add an exciting element to the competition."

The winner of the competition gets $20 million.  Each team has until December 2012 to complete this journey.

As fall quickly approaches on Mars, the Phoenix Lander is using an 8-foot-long robotic arm to collect soil samples that can be utilized to analyze the history of Mars.  Phoenix has been on Mars since May 25 and is scheduled to operate through December; though it's possible the lander will run out of energy before that time.

Researchers chose a specific rock to move so soil samples underneath could be collected for analysis.  Scientists believe the soil may contain a high amount of salt, which is left behind when water evaporates in arid or arctic regions on Earth.

It is unknown when scientists will have initial results from the soil tests.

Famed computer gamer Richard Garriott blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) for the second time over the weekend aboard a Soyuz TMA-13 capsule.  He reportedly paid $30 million for the 10-day trip, and he is scheduled to arrive at the ISS tomorrow.  Garriott is the first second-generation space traveler, as his father, Owen Garriott, was a NASA astronaut who visited space more than 35 years ago.

In an effort to save a "copy of the human" race, similar to his video game Tabula Rassa, Garriott has taken the DNA of humans into space to be stored on the ISS.

There is concern over Garriott's return back to Earth, as the last two Soyuz spacecraft used to land back on Earth landed safely, but subjected their crews to more than eight times the force of gravity -- a number twice as high than when a Soyuz normally lands.





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