Google Lunar X Prize: Build a robot, send it to the moon, win $20 million

(CNN)  “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” – U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaking before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961.

It was the height of the Cold War and the United States and the Soviet Union were battling it out to be the first nation to put a man on the lunar surface. On July 20, 1969, eight years after President Kennedy implored the U.S. congress for funding for space exploration, NASA’s Apollo 11 spaceflight touched down on the moon. American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans in history to walk on the Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Since then a further 10 men have left their footprints on the moon’s dusty surface, with the last being Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan in 1972. But after this golden age, moon exploration was seen as not cost effective for international space agencies.

Then, last year, China sent its Jade Rabbit explorer on a three-month mission to examine the moon’s crust. But it suffered a critical malfunction just half way through andbid farewell to humanity in a final report (although it is still functioning, according to Chinese press reports). Now Google is shooting for the stars and calling for private organizations to participate in an international competition for innovators to go back to the moon.

The Google Lunar X Prize hopes to spur exploration on the moon and will see a hefty $20 million jackpot handed to the first team that puts a robot on the lunar surface.

But that’s not all – there are a few scientific objectives a team must complete in order to obtain the ultimate honors from Google. Once on the moon, the robot must travel 500 meters and transmit HD video back to Earth. And they’ve got to do it all by December 31, 2015.


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