A small private company Wednesday announced its participation in the race to land a privately funded robotic craft on the moon for a piece of a $30 million prize.
Next Giant Leap, founded by entrepreneur Michael Joyce last November, initially registered as a team for the Google Lunar X Prize contest as a "Mystery Team" and today revealed its name and team members at a news conference held at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View.
Fifteen other teams from around the world have entered to win the Google Lunar X Prize. The contest, announced in September 2007, calls for participants to create a craft that can land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters on, above or below the lunar surface, and send specific images and other data back to Earth.
The $30 million prize will be broken down into a $20 million grand prize, a $5 million second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. After Dec. 31, 2012, the grand prize will drop to $15 million.
Joyce said Next Giant Leap revealed its team name and members today in order to elicit funding and interest in the company.
"We believe we have our technological team complete," he said. "We wanted to go public so the appropriate folks who are interested in funding know who we are."
Joyce said the X Prize will not be enough to cover the entire cost of creating the moon lander. By developing the technology, the company hopes to profit later through sponsorship, naming rights and from parties interested in traveling to the moon.
"The point is that after we've developed this craft, we do see additional revenue streams by repeating the mission for paying customers such as universities and governments, as well as totally non-government-related venues," Joyce said.
Next Giant Leap's team includes MicroSat Systems, Inc., an innovator of small spacecraft; the Draper Laboratory, for space guidance navigation and control; and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"It's taken the last nine to 10 months to get the team members on board, and we agree we have a good chance of doing this," Joyce said.
Jeffrey Hoffman, a professor of aerospace engineering at MIT and a NASA astronaut from 1978 to 1997, said MIT professors deciding on a topic for a graduate design course learned of the Google X Prize and had students begin work on the project.
"It's great experience for the students," he said.
Students participate in building the test vehicles in the initial phases of the project, Hoffman said.
Hoffman said he is too young to have gone to the moon during his astronaut days but hopes to see some of his students, who are being considered for astronaut positions, fulfill the dream.
"We stopped exploring the moon in 1972; it's time to get started again," he said.
Joyce said that one of Google's goals in holding the contest is to inspire students to "reach for the moon" in a very literal way.
"Google's emphasis is to really do an outreach to the public -- in particular, inspire kids in school to pursue engineering and science and make science and engineering exciting by going to the moon," Joyce said.
"These kids have the opportunity to do manned exploration in the future," he said.