Friday, February 27, 2015

Thirty Four enter, Eighteen continue, ONE WILL WIN!



Two teams of the on-going Google Lunar X Prize are joining forces before they try and leave the other behind.


This 21st century Space Competition is a challenge that asks that teams partaking have a launch date set at least 12 months ahead of the deadline which is the end of 2016. Once the team lands on the moon (robotically) a race begins – the team is expected to travel 500 meters and transmit back some high-def video. The first team to accomplish this gets $20 million dollars.


The two teams joining forces? Astrobotic and the Japanese team Hakuto. They will share a ride to the Moon (and back, theoretically) but once they are up there, it’s every man for himself – actually every rover. Both teams had not set up a launch date as of yet and with time running down and money running short it was agreed that they would work together, for the trip up at least.


Of course that puts them in an odd position. If the rocket fails then BOTH teams don’t make it to the Moon but conversely if the rocket works fine BOTH teams will find themselves part of a 21st Century Space Race – or a space drag race or NASCAR… 


At risk is not only the $20 million – there is $5 million for the second place prize and additional funds that can earned as well by completing tasks that are beyond the baseline requirements. (from capturing images of Apollo program hardware or other manmade objects that are now on the moon to verifying the ice that’s been located on the Moon or camping out and surviving a lunar night.) Also there is a Diversity award that rewards diversity in teams that make significant strides in promoting ethnic diversity.


You may have heard of the company Astrobotic. In 2008 it made its debut, a spin-off from Carnegie-Mellon University. Additionally they have entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA. Astrobotic will also be paid. It will pay Astrobotic for data about how to land at a precise location, which previous Mars and Moon robots have thus far not done, as well as how to those avoid last-minute obstacles like big rocks or small craters previously unseen. The NASA contract also pays for information about how the Astrobotic robot survives the lunar night – two weeks of deep freeze as cold as liquid nitrogen.


Of particular interest to all will be the social presence as the robot will be tweeting and sending pictures and perhaps getting some to stop doing air quotes before they say Moon Landing. (Conspiracy buffs are about to lose all debatable topics regarding the Apollo!)


It may only be February – but I am looking forward to this space race!!!

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