From a very young age, I have been fascinated with space. I was born well after the Apollo landings were over, but I still found myself riveted by the film that those astronauts brought back with them from the moon. Even in black and white, and under the constraints of the difficult circumstances they faced in filming their time there, that footage has the power to captivate me, even now. I’ve been sad to see the excitement about space exploration that was such a huge part of the American experience in the 1950s and 60s slowly slip out of the collective consciousness in this country. I still find that sense of wonder I suspect I shared with all children looking at the night sky tugging at me.
The recent excitement surrounding the Ansari X-Prize, which awarded ten million dollars to the first company to build a privately-funded spacecraft to achieve low earth orbit twice in two weeks, made me feel like some of that sense of wonder about space was returning. I heard people who had never shown any particular interest in space exploration or even in science in general talking about it, and it never failed to make me smile.
Now, there is a new X-prize up for grabs. This time, the prize has been doubled to twenty million dollars, and will be awarded for the first private venture to soft-land a rover on the moon. The robot will have to complete certain tasks to win the prize, but the short version is that a private venture has to build a viable scientific rover and safely land it on the moon within the next five years. The race to innovate at the bleeding edge of aerospace technology is once again in the running.