The first contenders in Google's X-Prize

February 21, 2008 7:25:52 PM PST
Remember the race to the moon during the cold war years? Well, it's on, again. But this time, private enterprise will be competing and not governments.

When posing for an official photo, they all had smiles on their faces today.

"I'm in the game and there is nothing frightening about what we're up to," said Red Whittaker.

Except that Red Whittaker's game will play out across the vacuum of space, and then on the rocky surface of the moon.

His team, called "Astrobotic" is one of ten now competing for Google's lunar X-Prize.

"I'm kind of sad that we were there 40 years ago, and not since," said Google founder Sergei Brin.

It's somewhat jarring to consider that Sergei Brin, and Larry Page, who co-founded the company that funds the X-Prize, were not even alive even alive when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, or when men last left.

Their contest will give $20 million dollars to the first team that lands a robot on the moon, and sends back pictures.

There are ten million dollars in bonuses for surviving the night, and roaming more than 500 yards.

"If I see one image, it would be the shot of the old Apollo landing site. That would be it," said Brin.

$30 million dollars may sound like a lot, but most of the competitors say it's not about the money.

"The prize is the catalyst," said Bob Richards from Odyssey Moon.

Canadian Bob Richards already has an agreement with the company that built the space shuttle's robotic arm.

He says that this, like the last X-Prize competition, is really a game within a game to develop the moon commercially.

He notes that Paul Allen spent three times the prize money in building his space plane.

"However Richard Branson steps in after the prize was won, and says I'll take six of those. So now an entire industry was born on the concept of personal space flight," said Bob Richards.

And now Google has upped the ante. Having conquered much of this world -- now there is another.