Google most certainly has a fascination with the space beyond the atmosphere of the Earth. After all, they recently launched the new addition to Google Earth called Google Sky (a virtual telescope), and they routinely work closely with NASA on various projects. Now they’re getting involved in outer-space another way, through a robotic race to the moon which they’re sponsoring called Google Lunar X Prize. The winner of the race will receive a whopping $20 million dollar prize with a $5 million dollar second prize, and $5 million in bonus prizes.
Getting a robot to the moon is no easy task, and Google along with the X Prize Foundation realize this. That’s why the first place prize can be awarded anytime between now and December 31st, 2012 – over 5 years from now. To obtain the first place prize, a team "must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images, and data back to Earth." If no one is able to accomplish that task before the given date, the award will drop to $15 million until December 31st, 2014 when the contest would end.
After Google announced the race to the moon, Gearlog sat down with Google co-founder Larry Page to ask him about visiting space. He was asked if the race would be a "fulfillment of childhood fantasies" to which Page responded that he’d love to go to space. He said "I think everyone wants to go into space… if it’s easy, efficient, and affordable." Page was also asked how Google could contribute to this race other than sponsoring it, and he said "Our engineers are really excited about this. They put up this Moon product; you can see the old Apollo data really well, and that’s just great – as our technologists get excited about things…"
It makes sense now why Google launched a new version of Google Moon without the cheese. Remember the cheese? Not too long ago Google’s sense of humor was found on the surface of the moon. If you zoomed it as far as you could – this is what you’d see:
No joking anymore! Getting to the moon is serious business now, and Google along with the X Prize Foundation are hoping that this international competition will end up introducing us to low-cost ways of getting robots into space for exploration. As XPGeek said in the forum, the last time we were at the moon was "almost 40 years ago. That’s the farthest we have gone, and we haven’t been back since." I think it’s about time, don’t you?