Google Wants a Moon Rover Bad: More Private Space Travel to Follow?

Fly me to the moon. If it’s a robot you’re talking about, you’re on. Google has a grand plan. The company will pay 30 million dollars to the company that can make them a robotic moon rover, get it there, and get it to beam images and a video back to Earth so they can put it on their Web site. This endeavor is being run like a contest. Any private company in the world that can do this by the end of 2012 gets the dough. If there isn’t anyone who is successful by then, the contest is still on until 2014, but the prize money drops to $15 million.

If you have a private company that might be up to the task, here’s a little check list to help you keep track of the Google X Prize contest requirements. The moonrover must be able to:

  • survive a landing with cameras and high definition video in working order
  • trek at least 1,312 feet on the moon
  • take pictures of itself, plus panoramic shots and a real time video (close to real time)
  • beam those shots and video back to Earth so they can be posted and streamed on Google’s Web site.

These robot building races are not new. In a contest last year, robots raced across the Mojave Desert. William Whittaker who is at Carnegie Mellon University, was in charge of two of those robots and now has his eyes on Google’s carrot, and probably not so much for the money. It’s not that anyone will make a fortune if they are successful. Space missions are pricey. Getting the rover to the moon is a large part of the cost so financially it may be a wash, particularly if you don’t meet the 2012 deadline.

From what I read, it sounds like the challenge of saying, “We did it” might make this happen more than the money will. If it does, this might make commercial space travel closer to the rest of us. Since Google has paired with X Prize Foundation, the organization responsible for the first private spaceflight in 2004, I’d say we might be watching a moon rover do it’s thing on our computer screen one of these days. By 2012, I wonder what those computers will look like? Doesn’t 2012 sound like a long way away? It’s only 7 years. Gaad.