Google is sponsoring the Lunar X Prize, paying $20 million to the first team that can land a robotic spacecraft on the moon. Once the robot craft arrives at the lunar surface, to win the money it must transmit a specific set of video and data back to Earth, somehow move 500 meters, and then transmit one more similar data set back to our planet. There will be none of this 2020 talk, either — this feat must be accomplished by the end of 2012, when the prize total drops to $15 million, and down to $0 two years later. Second place wins $5 million, and bonus prizes of $5 million go to teams visiting historic lunar landing sites or discovering lunar ice.
Since Google announced this contest six months ago, the X Prize Foundation has seen an explosion of interest, and now 10 teams are fully registered to send their robotic space ships to the moon. Besides the spider-like lunar rover proposed by Team Italia in the picture above, another team plans to send a toaster-sized ‘bot to the surface, with a cell phone-sized rover inside to take that 500-meter jaunt across the lunar surface. Meanwhile, a team from Carnegie Mellon vows to visit the landing site of Apollo 11.
While none of the teams will be spending the billions that NASA is renowned for blowing through, we have our doubts about any of the teams reaching the moon for less cost than $20 million. Said X Prize chairman Peter Diamandis, “This is about developing a new generation of technology that is cheaper, can be used more often and will enable a new wave of explorers.”