Nearly 40 years after Americans first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 with NASA's historic Apollo 11 flight, a host of private rocketeers are hoping to follow to win a $30 million prize. Here, SPACE.com looks at Odyssey Moon, one of 17 teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize:
When the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize premiered, the first official team to sign up was Odyssey Moon — but the company has plans far beyond winning or losing the private race to the moon.
"Odyssey Moon is about an ongoing commitment to lunar enterprise," said Robert Richards, Odyssey Moon Founder and CEO. "We believe there is a long-term business opportunity with the government and commercial partners."
Richards and his multi-national team partnered with the space technologies company MDA of Canada to launch their "Moon One" (M-1) Lunar Lander in July 2011. They hope not just to win the Lunar X Prize, but also to kick off the first in a series of low-cost robotic missions to the moon.
Winning the Google Lunar X Prize requires private teams to land a robot on the moon and complete several tasks, including traveling 1,640 feet (500 m) and sending high definition images back to Earth.
The company has already jumped aboard a new commercial "moon rush" — it announced plans last year to fly cremated human remains to the moon, as part of a partnership service with Celestis. Odyssey Moon also signed on recently with Paragon Space Development Corporation to help deliver the first flower to the moon.
Odyssey Moon is focused on developing a suitable launch vehicle and their M-1 Lunar Lander, as opposed to other teams that have displayed early lunar rover designs. Richards characterized the Google Lunar X Prize as "a lander competition, not a rover competition," and noted that the challenge was in getting the lander to brake, descend, and land safely. That means looking to tested and reliable technology that can do the job.
"There's no new physics, this isn't magic, and we're not trying to break technology barriers per se," Richards told SPACE.com. "I'm very agnostic [on the technology]."
Finding financing for a private moon venture has proven challenging for every team, but Odyssey Moon's partnerships reflect an aggressive attempt to attract resources and investors. Richards pointed out that the previous Ansari X Prize, a $10 million suborbital spaceflight competition won by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites in 2004, has added credibility to the Google Lunar X Prize.
"We've gone from the giggle factor to the Google factor," Richards noted. "People know that it's serious branding and a serious effort."
Richards sees the Lunar X Prize as "something to support because I believe in the power of the prize" to help catalyze a growing space industry. However, he is also driven by a vision beyond making moon bucks from space ventures.
"I firmly believe that we have to expand humanity's focus from a one-planet society to a multi-planetary mindset, and the moon is a perfect platform...for stepping out into the solar system," Richards said, adding that he credited Carl Sagan for promoting the space pioneering spirit. That exploration imperative is declared even more boldly on Odyssey Moon's website.
"Future generations will view the Google Lunar X Prize as the turning point of the 21st century, when humanity realized the Moon's critical role for prosperity and survival in space and on Earth," Richards has said.
That combination of entrepreneurial spirit and Sagan's vision means Odyssey Moon intends to go all the way, regardless of the Google Lunar X Prize outcome.
"We have our eyes on the prize, but if do not win, we will applaud those who do and continue," Richards said.
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