Google Lunar X Prize

Came across this long article about how the teams in Google Lunar X Prize are faring so far. It looks like many teams are finding it hard to secure funding for the project and may not make it to the 2015 deadline. Many are dropping out.

After I learnt about the things that these teams will have to achieve in order to claim the prize, I thought the whole thing was unnecessarily over-ambitious.

The $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE will be awarded to the first privately funded teams to build robots that successfully land on the lunar surface, explore the Moon by moving at least 500 meters (~1/3 of a mile), and return high definition video and imagery

It means the team has to accomplish a number of difficult things like

  1. launching successfully from earth
  2. landing safely on moon
  3. building a rover that can at least move 1/2 km, autonomously or remotely
  4. communication system with robot for control and video transmission
  5. robust packaging of the rover during the flight and landingIf the goal of the competition is to further the Space exploration technologies, the prize should have focused only on first two things - launch from earth and land safely on moon. There are other competitions to promote advancement in robotics. Why waste limited funding resources on technologies that are not directly related to Space. They should have limited the scope of the competition to launching a piece of rock from earth and safely landing it on moon. That still would have been a massive achievement in itself.

If a team successfully puts a rover on Moon and fails to drive it, who cares? Driving a robot and recording a video is trivial, compared to landing on moon.

The most important obstacle to space exploration is the exorbitant costs involved in just escaping the gravity well. We need to focus solely on that single portion of the problem first.


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