The transition from huge, government-funded space projects to those driven by private initiative and capital took a great step forward Thursday.
The X Prize Foundation announced that Google is financing a contest to put a privately funded robotic rover on the moon. The thing would have to be capable of roaming the surface for 500 meters and sending video and data back to Earth, News.com reports.
"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, a nonprofit prize-generating group. "Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation. We look forward to bringing the historic private space race into every home and classroom."
The announcement was a star-studded one at the Wired NextFest conference in L.A., featuring Diamandis, Larry Page, Buzz Aldrin -- and, via video, Sergey Brin, Tesla Motors backer Elon Musk and filmmaker James Cameron.
"We're going back to the moon not because of a massive government program ... This is Moon 2.0 with private industry ... kick-starting the future of space exploration," Cameron said.
NASA is attempting to remake itself as a more robust and dynamic agency, even as the Shuttle program coughs and stumbles to an end. It is not entering a program to again put a man on the moon. Peter Norvig, the former head of computation at NASA's Ames facility who is now Google's director of research, said recently that suggested that the agency should not try manned landings again but focus on robotics.
Page said the prize could help solve science's "marketing problem." He said: "These kinds of contests are good way to improve the state of ... humanity in the world."
Google and X Prize launched a Web site for classrooms to learn about the project at Googlelunarxprize.org.