05 October 2010

Lunar X Prize Drives Private Race to the Moon

The $30 million prize will go to the first privately-financed team to place a robot on the surface of the moon.

The machine will then have to rove for 24 hours, travelling more [than] 500 metres, before sending back a data package including high-definition images.

President of the X PRIZE Foundation Robert Weiss said: "With this competition we hope to lower the cost of space exploration, which in the hands of government is usually quite expensive. _BBC

Engineers and experts with 21 teams are gathering this week on the Isle of Man, to take part at the Google Lunar X Prize Summit, a discussion with all those involved in the multi-million-dollar effort.

The main goal of this competition is to land an autonomous, private, home-made robot on the surface of the Moon, using a delivery system built by the same team that made the robot. _Softpedia

The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize is one Google investment that makes sense. Easily affordable to a company with Google's revenues and stock value, the X Prize is driving 21 private teams toward the goal of landing an autonomous robot on the moon, capable of roving for 24 hours and sending back high definition images.

There is much wealth on the moon, waiting for the first groups of enterprising humans to scoop it up and run with it.
The seemingly barren moon may actually be a treasure-trove of priceless resources: a potentially bountiful, mineral-rich – yet untapped – cosmic quarry. Still, few see the moon as an alluring mining site, ripe for the picking of rare elements of strategic and national security importance.

..."Yes, we know there are local concentrations of REE on the moon," Pieters told SPACE.com, referring to rare earth elements by their acronym REE. "We also know from the returned samples that we have not sampled these REE concentrations directly, but can readily detect them along a mixing line with many of the samples we do have."

Pieters is also principal investigator for NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, known as M3, which was carried on India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar-orbiting spacecraft. That probe was lofted by the Indian Space Research Organization in October 2008 and operated around the moon until late August 2009.

Among other findings, the M3 gear found a whole new range of processes for mineral concentrations on the moon – unappreciated until now.

For example, the M3 experiment detected a new lunar rock – a unique mixture of plain-old plagioclase – plentiful in the Earth's crust and the moon's highlands – and pink spinel, an especially beautiful arrangement of magnesium, aluminum and oxygen that, in its purest forms, is prized as a gemstone here on Earth.

What about the whereabouts of precious elements sitting there on our celestial neighbor in gravitational lock?

Pieters said lunar scientists have a good idea how lunar rare earth elements became concentrated – it occurred as part of the moon's magma ocean differentiation sequence. But it is now also recognized that "early events disrupted and substantially reorganized that process in ways we are still trying to decipher," she added. _Space.com_via_ImpactLab

A Romanian team contesting the Lunar X Prize is using a rocket - balloon combination. A recent test launching of the system achieved an altitude of 40,000 metres -- the balloon took the rocket to 12,000 metres, and the rocket engines carried the payload the rest of the distance. That is just one out of 21 different approaches to reaching the moon.

Successful private enterprises, permanently located in space and on lunar and Martian surfaces and beyond, are crucial first steps to the emergence of humanity from its planetary womb. It is no accident that internet and computer entrepreneurs such as Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, the Google team, and Paul Allen, along with billionaires Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow, are behind several projects to achieve private space enterprise.

Excess wealth always looks for future enterprises which may become the next big thing. It is this drive for new enterprise which is needed in order to expand the possibilities for humans on Earth and beyond. But that is exactly the kind of ambition and enterprise which the Obama regime has worked hard to shut down and prevent.

We are at a crossroads. One choice leads downward to perpetual totalitarian statism and near-ubiquitous poverty. The other choice leads to a limitless expansion and unlimited possibilities. You must choose.

More: How NASA helped prove how much water exists on the moon

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