There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
- President John F. Kennedy
I had goosebumps the first time I heard the complete speech given by President John F. Kennedy at Rice Stadium in the 60's. The speech was given on September 12th, 1962 and remains just as important to me today as it was back then. Of course, I wasn't alive when the speech was given … my father was only five years old at the time. But being the geek that I am, this was something I wanted to hear in elementary school soon after becoming enamoured in space science.
What an exciting time it must have been at NASA when the Gemini and Apollo missions were in full swing. They had huge budgets, impossible tasks, incredible risks and some of the greatest minds the world has ever known working towards a common non-military goal. There were accidents, and some even payed the ultimate price, but after 8 years of increbile stress and sleepless nights, the men and women at NASA developed the technology to put humans on the moon and return them safely to the Earth.
So why am I talking about "the good ol' days" of space technology research? Well … because Google's offering upwards of $30-million USD to private organizations that can get us exploring our closest celestial neighbour again.
The competition to send a robot craft to the Moon is being run with the X-Prize Foundation. To claim the money, any craft reaching the lunar surface must perform a series of tasks such as shoot video and roam for specific distances. Firms and individuals interested in trying for the prize have until December 31st, 2012 to complete the goals.
In a statement announcing the competition, Google and the X-Prize Foundation said it had been created in an effort to stimulate research into low-cost robotic exploration of space.
The top prize of $20-million will be given to the private firm or organization that soft-lands a rover on the Moon and then completes a series of tasks. These include roaming the lunar surface for a distance of at least 500 meters, gathering images and video, and other pieces of data. A prize of $5-million will be awarded to the second firm that reaches the Moon with a rover that can complete the same tasks.
Google went on to say they would give bonuses of $5-million if the rovers complete other objectives, including travelling much further over the lunar surface, taking pictures of Apollo hardware, finding water-ice (which I think would be worth more than $5-million for anyone staying on the moon) and surviving the extreme temperature changes for prolonged periods.
Rovers taking part must be fitted with high-definition video and still cameras.
This contest really excites me, though it's a shame that I do not have the resources or skills necessary to take part in such an endeavour. But that said, there is still time to learn.
If the prize is not awarded by the end of 2012, a smaller sum of $15-million will be offered until December 31st, 2014.
Sending a rocket to the Moon is a difficult task any day, but including with that rocket must be a robot that can safely land and carry out some specific tasks for an specific amount of time. Typically such incredible feats are left for nations or international agencies, but with the world's brightest minds working on the problem, there's a good chance that low-cost robotic scouts can be created and sent to the Moon and beyond.
I look forward to the opportunities this competition will bring.
Since I couldn't find a decent version on YouTube, you can download President Kennedy's historic speech at Rice Stadium in .mpg format here (176 MB) or in .asf format here (25 MB).