Now that the last space shuttle has landed back on Earth, a new generation of space entrepreneurs would like to whip up excitement about the prospect of returning to the Moon.
Spurred by a $30 million purse put up by Google, 29 teams have signed up for a competition to become the first private venture to land on the Moon. Most of them are unlikely to overcome the financial and technical challenges to meet the contest deadline of December 2015, but several teams think they have a good shot to win — and to take an early lead in a race to take commercial advantage of our celestial neighbor.
For the Moon competition, Google put up $30 million. Of that, $20 million will go to the first team to land a spacecraft on the Moon, explore 500 meters and send back high-definition video and photos. The second team will win $5 million, and the remaining $5 million will pay for bonus prizes like surviving a frigid lunar night or traveling more than 5,000 meters on the surface.
Not all the competitors see dollar signs in the Moon. Rocket City Space Pioneers, a consortium of businesses, is using its Moon effort largely to market technology that will allow multiple payloads to share one rocket, greatly reducing launching costs. (In other words, as the lander headed for the Moon, it could drop off a few satellites in orbit.)
Private Firms Take Over U.S. Space Exploration