Lunar Lander Inventors Win Big
Who will design the next spacecraft that lands on the moon? You might guess a team of scientists from NASA, the United States government space agency. But could you believe it might turn out to be a computer game programmer and a few part-time helpers?
On Thursday, the X Prize Foundation awarded the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X Prize at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Two teams of inventors won a total of $1.5 million for crafting and flying robotic machines that could land on the moon. The prize money for the contest came from NASA.
Masten Space Systems from Mojave, California, won the $1 million first prize for its spacecraft nicknamed Xoie (pronounced ZOE-ee). Armadillo Aerospace, the Rockwall, Texas-based team headed by a computer game programmer, won the $500,000 second prize. Its lander is called Scorpius.
A lunar lander is designed to separate from a spacecraft orbiting, or circling, the moon. Its job is to carry people or instruments to the surface of the moon to collect information. Then it must be able to return them to the orbiting craft.
To win the Lunar Lander X Prize, teams had to build a machine that could handle a simulated, or imitation, moon landing. The landers had to rise more than 160 feet in the air. They had stay aloft, or in the air, for at least three minutes while flying to a rocky landing pad. After landing, they had to lift off again and return to their starting point.
“Winning contests is fun,” said David Masten of Masten Space Systems, “but we won’t rest until we’re flying a fleet of vehicles into space.”
The Private Space Race Heats Up
The goal of the Lunar Lander X Prize contest was to encourage non-government groups to advance, or move forward, space technology. The winning inventions could help NASA’s future missions to the moon land safely and gather information.
The X Prize Foundation has worked with private companies on other contests. In 2004, the Ansari X Prize awarded $10 million for the first private space flight with a human aboard. The winning team built a spacecraft that flew three people more than 62 miles above the Earth.
In 2010, the Google Lunar X Prize will be awarded. The first private team that lands a robot on the moon will win $20 million. The robot must be able to travel 500 meters (about 1,600 feet) on the moon’s surface. It must also send images and video back to Earth.
The X Prize program has created a lot of excitement about private space travel. Maybe before too long, you’ll be able to buy a ticket on a spaceship to the moon. Or maybe you’ll design the spaceship!
THINK AND WRITE
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