Following the Race to the Moon

In their efforts to “ignite a new era of lunar exploration,” the Google Lunar X Prize wants competitors to reach out through social media too


Most of you know about the Google Lunar X Prize already: the race for “the first privately funded team to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth.”  Google is offering up $30 million in prizes to the 26 teams from around the world who joined the competition by the December 2010 application deadline.

In their efforts to “ignite a new era of lunar exploration,” GLXP wants more than just to send hardware to the moon. Along the way the teams must record their work and reach out through blogs and social media so that the rest of us (including the passionate but less engineering-inclined) can follow their progress. According to the rules, each team must write one blog post a week and post 45 minutes of video each quarter; Facebook and Twitter are not required, but many of the teams have incorporated them as well.

Amanda Stiles, GLXP’s Online Community and Google Liaison, says this about the online outreach requirement:

We hope that by encouraging the teams to tell their stories, the public will have the opportunity to get to know the personalities of the people involved with the competition and understand their motivations for pursuing the prize. These teams are pushing boundaries and doing great things in many arenas — technical, political, educational, and business, to name a few — all around the world, and we hope to showcase those efforts. And ultimately, when the winning teams eventually claim the prize purses then there will be well-documented stories of their trials, tribulations, and successes along the way.

GLXP recently redesigned their website so that it focuses more on these outreach efforts, with a streaming feed of all the competitors’ updates and pages for each team. Naturally, some of the output is better than others; many of the Twitter feeds don’t really seem to “live-tweet” the experience the way an observer might hope. Team Astrobotic Tech has one of the better Twitter feeds, with lots of interesting updates and links to pictures and video of their two Personal Exploration Rovers (PERs), Juno and Kosh.

Don't worry Kosh, I'm sure the team's working on it.

Team Astrobotic Tech's Twitter update, featuring their GLXP rovers.

Here’s a particularly informative video from Team Italia describing their rover engineering.

Space exploration outreach group Evadot has been keeping a running scorecard for each section of the GLXP competition, which puts team Part-Time Scientists in the lead for social outreach, though we’re not sure if that’s for strictly following the quantity requirements or if it takes into account quality, as well.

The online outreach is just one part of an obviously much bigger and more difficult challenge. But as Evadot notes, GLXP “is NOT just a simple race to the moon. The point is the change it can bring through the competition. It’s not the race, it’s what happens because of the race.” And the hope is that this kind of outreach will, as Stiles puts it, ”encourage teams to be seen as modern-day space heroes,” inspiring not just by reaching a goal, but by bringing us all along for the ride.

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