The next X Prize – land a robot on the Moon

The X Prize Foundation and Google have announced a $20 million prize for the first privately funded robotic rover on the Moon. This follows the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first private suborbital flight, won by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.

It’s a bigger challenge, and a richer purse, but I am not sure the Google Lunar X Prize will grab the public’s attention in the same way. It’s a robot not a human, after all. And as NASA’s plucky Mars rovers illustrate, robots are not as good at grabbling headlines.

But the timetable will give NASA something to think about, as it plods along its way back to the Moon. The grand prize of $20 million for the first rover on the Moon reduces to $15 million on 1 January 2013 and the competition is to be terminated on 31 December 2014.

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