What's So Great About the Lunar X Prize?
The last unmanned moon landing took place over three decades ago, when the Soviet Union achieved a successful landing with its Luna-24 mission in 1976. Space exploration since then has essentially been limited to low earth orbit. Even the first X Prize, the Ansari X Prize awarded in 2004, asked teams only to travel 100 km above the earth's surface, approximately the edge of outer space. The Google Lunar X Prize is far more ambitious in its destination, though unlike the Ansari X Prize, it does not require human space travel.
The moon is a tempting target for space travel, and not just for the aesthetic qualities of its austere landscape. According to the X PRIZE Foundation, the moon qualified as a goal for an X Prize because of its unique natural resources, which can be exploited for use on earth. For example, solar cells can be deployed over the lunar surface to collect the sun's energy during the moon's long day, and that pollution-free, carbon-neutral energy can be transmitted back to earth.
In the course of achieving the goals of the Google Lunar X Prize, new technology in fields such as fuels for space travel will be developed. Private funding provides an incentive to lower the costs of lunar exploration. And in seeing that the human race has not abandoned the moon will inspire school children to dream about space travel and to study math and science. This competition promises to benefit not just the winners, but all humankind.