3:18 PM

Orteig Would
Be Impressed

We all remember Raymond Orteig, the wealthy French hotelier who ponied up twenty-five large for the first chap who could successfully complete a nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. The year was 1919, and the idea of such an aerial mission sounded pretty far out at the time.

The idea languished for a few years, until a gutsy airmail stick named Charles Lindbergh won the prize in a modified single-engine Ryan aircraft called the Spirit of St. Louis. The impact this prize had on aviation cannot be understated, so says the X-Prize Foundation:

"It is difficult today to fully appreciate the impact of Lindbergh’s flight but the following facts provide a small indication about how a single prize changed the way people thought about flight, and about the world itself. There was an increase in U.S. airline passengers from 5,782 to 173,405 in three years (1926-1929) and a 300% increase in applications for pilot’s licenses, 400% increase of licensed aircraft in the United States in one year (1927). The Spirit of St. Louis was personally viewed by a quarter of all Americans within one year of Lindbergh’s historic flight, and today, the global aviation industry is estimated at more than $300 billion."
If you've heard of the X-prize Foundation before, they're the people who brought us the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for Suborbital Spaceflight, That check was awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures on October 4, 2004, marking what the foundation called "the beginning of the personal spaceflight revolution and signifying a radical breakthrough in prize philanthropy."

So how do you top that? Ten million is a lot of spare change, so what could possibly raise that already high bar? Here is your answer:
"The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded and the first team to land on the Moon and complete the mission objectives will be awarded $20 million."
Just where do they come up with this kind of money? A hint is the second word of that last pull quote...Google. We all know they have $30 million in spare change stuck between the cushions of the couches at their Mountain View, CA HQ, and it is refreshing to see them put this generous prize out there to be won by our hard-working scientific community.

Today, the X-prize organizers listed the first 10 registered teams who want a piece of that phat paycheck...here's the line-up from their site:

Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA): They are based in Valcea, Romania

Astrobotic: Team Astrobotic, led by Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, was formed to coordinate the efforts of Carnegie Mellon University, Raytheon Company and additional institutions.

Chandah: Chandah, meaning “Moon” in Sanskrit, was founded by Adil Jafry, an energy industry entrepreneur.

FREDNET: Headed by Fred J. Bourgeois III, this multi-national team is comprised of systems, software, and hardware developers who lead an international group of Open Source developers, engineers, and scientists. Their goal is to bring the same successful approach used in developing major software systems (such as the Internet, and Linux) to bear on the problems associated with Space Exploration and Research.

LunaTrex: Led by Pete Bitar, LunaTrex is comprised of several individuals, companies, and universities from all over the United States, some of whom were also competitors for the Ansari X PRIZE.

Micro-Space: Helmed by Richard Speck and based in Colorado. Micro-Space has been a competitor in the Ansari X PRIZE as well as the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

Odyssey Moon: Odyssey Moon is a commercial lunar enterprise headquartered in the Isle of Man. Their business plans actively in development are for a series of missions to the Moon during the International Lunar Decade in support of science, exploration and commerce.

Quantum3: A U.S.-based team, Quantum3 is led by Paul Carliner, a senior executive in the aerospace industry. They propose to field a small spacecraft launched from an East Coast range using launch-coast-burn trajectory for a propulsive soft landing on the surface of the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility.

Southern California Selene Group: The architecture for their “Spirit of Southern California” spacecraft will combine the control and communication systems used in some of the earliest communications satellites with the latest in electronic and sensor technology.

Team Italia: Based in Italy, their architecture of the robotic system is under study: a single big rover or a colony of many robots, light and mobile, with many legs and wheels, able to be compacted in the lander and distributed quickly on the Moon's surface with cameras and sensory support.

Good luck to all.
And does anyone want to bet me which search engine will be the biggest and baddest one on the moon in about a decade?

Didn't think so.

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