Start your space engines! NASCAR is coming to the Moon! Well, sort of.
Private space companies fuel the modern space race. But a different kind of space race is on the horizon. XPRIZE, a non-profit organization using competition as a catalyst to bring about technological developments that will benefit humanity, has a Google-sponsored challenge underway called Lunar XPRIZE. Google Lunar XPRIZE hopes to spur exploration on the Moon. And what better way to encourage competition than cash money, baby! It’s doing this by awarding $30 million in prizes. A $20 million grand prize will go to the team that lands a robot safely on the Moon, moves it 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface, and sends back “HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy.”
Eighteen teams are participating in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. But on February 26, 2015, two of these competing teams announced a partnership. Japan’s HAKUTO and U.S.-based Astrobotic are sharing a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch in the second half of 2016. This rocket will transport Astrobotic’s Griffin lander to the lunar surface. After a successful touchdown, HAKUTO’s twin rovers, Moonraker and Tetris, and Astrobotic's Andy rover, will exit the lander. And that’s when the race begins.
"We envision a 'NASCAR on the moon' scenario, where competing teams land together, and countries can cheer on their team to the finish line," explains Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. This is an awesome idea. But this race will most likely lack the adrenaline of a fast-paced NASCAR race. Using the Andy rover to better illustrate the scenario, this little guy clocks in at a blazing speed of less than a half-mile per hour.
Both HAKUTO and Astrobotic were recently awarded Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prizes. HAKUTO won $500,000 for technological advancements in the Mobility category. Astrobotic was awarded $1.75 million for innovations in Landing, Mobility, and Imaging.
Although it will be a slow race, the “NASCAR on the MOON” idea is still cool. And it’s great to see competing teams willing to collaborate for the greater good of the competition. Let’s see if that same spirit of collaboration is still there when aliens hijack one of the rovers . . .