Bang, Zoom–To the Moon, Sergey! To the Moon!
Google’s current engineering facilities in the United States, India and Switzerland are all leaders in search technology development. However, by locating a research and technology center on the moon, Google engineers will be able to experiment with an entirely different set of parameters. For example, imagine tapping unlimited solar energy to drive megawatt data centers and power innumerable arrays of massively parallel lava lamps, with ample no-cost cooling available to regulate the temperature of server farms sprawling over acres of land unblighted by sentient lifeforms or restrictive zoning ordinances.”
With the establishment of the Google Lunar X Prize, Google’s 2004 Copernicus Center announcement seems less April Fool’s Day hoax, more company aspiration. At Wired NextFest in Los Angeles yesterday, Google said it will award up to $30 million in prize money to anyone able to land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon.
To win the purse, the lunar craft must travel the lunar surface to a distance of at least 1,640 feet and relay video, images and data back to Earth. And it must do so by the end of 2012.
“We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual-presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration,” said Peter Diamandis, head of the X Prize Foundation–the nonprofit institute working with Google on this effort. “Moon 2.0, the second era of lunar exploration, will not be a quest for ‘flags and footprints.’ This time we will go to the moon to stay. The moon is a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on Earth–energy independence and climate change.”
That seems a noble goal. Question is: is it an attainable one? There are plenty of skeptics who claim it’s not. “It’s hard to imagine this project costing less than a few hundred million dollars; PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, so far the most accomplished of the ‘new space’ entrepreneurs, has pumped an estimated $100 million into his Falcon 1 launch vehicle [and] still hasn’t reached orbit,” says Popular Mechanics air and space correspondent David Noland. “Against that kind of financial investment, $20 million is a drop in the bucket. A prize-winner would have to come up with millions upon millions on his own. Anyone who can come up with that kind of money would probably want to make up his own rules, not follow Google’s.”