Forget the race to the moon. That’s history. The future holds a race on the moon.
The Google Lunar X Prize has promised $30 million in prize money—$20 million of which will go to the first private team to land a robot on the Moon and move 500 meters "on, above or below the Moon’s surface" before the end of 2016. Now, two of the teams have announced that they plan to race the required distance, reports Popular Mechanics.
The two teams are Pittsburgh-based Astrobiotic, originally of Carnegie Mellon University, and HAKUTO, a spin-off group from Tokyo University. They announced the moon race during a press conference call on Monday. The two teams actually plan on sharing a ride to the moon for the event and are in talks to give lifts to more than half of the other 16 groups hoping to compete. The plan would have all the rocket-pooling teams share the cost of getting there and the prize money.
"If we get enough teams to fly, there could be a scenario where Astrobotic ends up with no prize money," the head of Astrobiotic, John Thornton, told reporters. "And that would be okay with us. Our goal is to successfully create a commercial capability to fly and deliver payload to the moon. We will have achieved that goal whether we have some of the winnings of the prize, or a lot of the winnings of the prize, or maybe none of the winnings of the prize."
Astrobiotic is working on developing both a rover and spacecraft for landing on the moon, which they’ve dubbed Griffin. HAKUTO is just working on a rover. "The reason why we chose Astrobotic is partly that we are planning to explore the lunar caves, the skylights," HAKUTO’s leader Takeshi Hakamada says, according to Popular Mechanics. "Astrobotic also has a plan to land close to a skylight."
The race itself will likely be less than speedy:
The rovers will crawl along slowly enough for each one to take stock of its surroundings as it goes and autonomously avoid rocks and craters that might impede its progress.
For those worried about preserving historic moon landing sites, that slow crawl—along with NASA’s guidelines—should provide some relief.
If all goes as planned, Space X’s Falcon9 rocket will carry the rovers and Griffin to the moon. Then the moonsports will begin. Good news for us still back on Earth: The conditions of the Lunar X Prize also require that the rovers beam back "HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy."