When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, the precarious space race was nowhere near being finished. Though the USSR was the first to have a satellite in orbit, the United States was the first to land a man on the moon in 1969. After that, the USSR eventually collapsed and the U.S. was the undisputed leader of the final frontier. However, the executives at Google have pushed the world into the Space Race: Part II.
Google has offered $25 million to the first agency to land a spacecraft on the moon. According to the New York Times, the craft must be able to travel at least 550 yards on the moon’s surface and send video, images and other data back to Earth. The “Google Lunar X Prize” was announced in Los Angeles on Sept. 13. The prize will be available until Dec. 31, 2012.
This space race is not between countries, though. It’s between corporations and colleges. The same New York Times article mentioned at least two universities, Carnegie Mellon University and George Washington University, that mentioned intentions of participating in the contest.
There is a mass of literature floating around the Internet about the privatization of NASA. I think in a round about way, this event and others like it will lead to the slow shift toward privatization for space exploration. With the billions of dollars held by corporations and the brilliant students in American universities, these contests could help launch an entirely new generation of space exploration and help get us to infinity and beyond.
I am sorry for that last joke. I just couldn’t help myself.
Foreign students and bright American students are still attending U.S. universities in large numbers, but if the universities were able to offer an experience like this, we would be able to maintain and attract more talented students to the U.S., rather than facing a possible “brain drain” when students start going to schools with better opportunities in other countries.
I like Google, and not just for the cheeky designs of the front page of its search engine around holidays. I also applaud it because it is encouraging innovation and reinvigorating a tired space program. As well, corporations can spend money on this while the government can spend money trying to figure out how to finish the mess it started in Iraq or on any of the thousands of social programs suffering from lack of funds. It’s entirely legitimate for the government to regulate space travel, especially with the development of space tourism.
Although, Richard Branson, the rebel billionaire who threw water on Stephen Colbert, is throwing his hat in the race with his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. That just sounds like a terrible Mel Brooks joke. If anyone were going to die windsurfing on the moon, Branson would be the most likely candidate.