The April 2012 issue of Scientific American has my article on the Google Lunar X PRIZE, the $30 million contest to land the first private robot on the moon. I got to spend time with leading team Astrobotic to craft the story and was very impressed by their potential for a win.
I first met team leader Red Whittaker while I was covering the DARPA Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle race in 2007. Even before his team took the first prize, I was impressed by Whittaker’s supreme focus, determination, technical expertise, and leadership skills. Reporting for my Scientific American article, I was further impressed by Whittaker’s dedication to fostering the next generation of innovators as he prompted, pushed, and encouraged students in his robotics class at Carnegie Mellon University to realize their fullest potential.
My association with David Gump, Whittaker’s cohort at Astrobotic, the company they formed to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, goes back even further, to 2005. At the time, Gump was heading up Transformational Space Corporation, the subject of my cover story for the October 2005 issue of Popular Science, and which arguably launched NASA’s current commercial crew and cargo program. That program is set to achieve the first commercial docking with the International Space Station at the end of April. The two men, one focused on the technical challenge, the other on building a sustainable business in space, make a formidable leadership team.
Private moon landers should open the door to faster and cheaper development of planetary science missions as well a commercial market for imagery (updated photos of the Apollo landing sites, anyone?), entertainment (want to drive a moonbot yourself?), and more. Just as the Ansari X PRIZE launched the commercial suborbital space flight industry, the Google Lunar X PRIZE—the largest incentive prize in history—seeks to jumpstart a new way of doing business (actually doing business at all) in deep space.
Look for my story “Bound for the Moon,” in the April issue of Scientific American, on magazine racks now, or link to the full text from Astrobotic’s Facebook page.
You can also catch me on New Hampshire Public Radio (http://www.nhpr.org/) talking about the article today at 12:20 Eastern.