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Friday, September 14, 2007
Google Sponsors Moon Landing Prize

Google will sponsor a $30 million competition for an unmanned lunar landing, following up on the $10 million Ansari X Prize that spurred a private sector race to space.

Like the Ansari X Prize, which was claimed in 2004 by aircraft designer Burt Rutan and financier Paul Allen for a pair of flights by SpaceShipOne, the Google Lunar X Prize is open to private industry and non-government entities worldwide, organizers said before an official announcement on Thursday.

First prize is $20 million for the group that can land a lunar rover -- an unmanned robotic probe -- on the moon, take it on a 500 meter (1,640 ft) trek and broadcast video back to Earth by December 31, 2012.

The prize falls to $15 million if the landing takes place by December 31, 2014.

A second-place winner will receive $5 million. In addition, at least $5 million in bonuses are available for milestones such as finding relics from the U.S. Apollo moon landings, or from Soviet lunar explorations, detecting water ice or keeping the rover alive on the lunar surface overnight.

The program was to be officially unveiled at Wired magazine's NextFest technology showcase, which opened Thursday in Los Angeles.

NASA had considered a similar venture as part of its Centennial Challenges program, but the agency so far has been able to fund prizes only up to $750,000. The NASA competitions also are closed to non-Americans.

The United States plans to retire its space shuttles in 2010 and develop new vehicles that can fly people to the International Space Station as well as the moon.

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