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Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Google offers reward for best Moon shots

SHOOT IT Google Moon is offering a top prize of US$20 million to any firm that can send a robot camera to take pictures on the Moon and transmit them back to Earth


Buzz Aldrin, right, an Apollo Astronaut, responds to a question while Bob Weiss, left, vice chairman of X Prize Foundation, Larry Page, second from left, co-founder and president of products at Google, and Peter Diamondis, chairman and CEO of X Prize, listen on Thursday in Los Angeles, California.


Internet search giant Google on Thursday offered US$30 million in prize money for companies to land a robot camera to roam on the Moon and send back high-resolution snaps and data.

Google launched Google Moon, a page on its site with images mapping out stretches of the orb's pock-marked surface. They are compiled from photographs taken by previous missions to the Moon, including the historic first landing by the Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and crew in 1969.

The site is aimed at encouraging firms interested in the challenge, giving them visuals of the Moon "so the teams can scout locations" for a robot camera, Google joked in a blog announcing the competition, launched jointly with the X Prize Foundation which promotes technological innovation.

It offers a US$20 million top prize for a vehicle that can move around automatically and transmit data back to Earth and a second prize of US$5 million for a stationary device that sends data.

A US$5 million bonus is offered for a robot vehicle that discovers ice or water, can travel further than 5km or captures images of space vehicles abandoned there from old missions.

The prizes are offered until Dec. 31, 2012, after which a lowered grand prize of US$12 million can be won, the company said.

Google's challenge recalls rewards for earlier achievements in flight, such as the US$25,000 paid to Charles Lindbergh who in 1927 became the first person to fly across the Atlantic.

It hopes private firms can develop simpler spacecraft than the heavy equipment used by big space agencies like NASA, which plans another Moon landing by 2020.

Several major entrepreneurs have shown an interest in space travel and rockets, such as the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen and Virgin boss Richard Branson who aspires to run a space tourism agency.

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