Next X Prize will be a real lunar lander challenge

Later today the X Prize Foundation is scheduled to announce its next major prize competition, which has been billed as “the largest international prize in history” with a Fortune 500 sponsor. However, there is already one credible report about the prize. According to a blog post by Esther Wojcicki on The Huffington Post, today’s announcement will be the $30-million Google Lunar XPrize. the competition will be for the first privately-developed mission to place a robotic rover on the surface of the Moon. The post includes a link to the prize web site, which currently returns a “404 Not Found” error message. (There’s a typo in the link in the HuffPo post: it should be, not The domain is registered to the X Prize Foundation, according to whois.) The article also references a space section of the Google web site; that, too, also returns a 404 error message early this morning.

If this report is correct, then it is not that surprising. A “real” lunar lander competition had long been discussed as a potential long-term prize, either for the X Prize or NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. (NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale will participate in the prize announcement today in Los Angeles, NASA announced yesterday.) And it’s also not that surprising to see Google taking a lead sponsorship role, given that Google co-founder Larry Page is on the board of trustees of the X Prize Foundation and that Google has hosted some X Prize-related events in the past. It does sound more credible than some of the other ideas that have been floated about, like a point-to-point suborbital space prize.

And why should you trust Esther Wojcicki anyway? She’s a high school journalism teacher in Palo Alto, California. She’s also the mother-in-law of Sergey Brin, the other co-founder of Google, so she’s something of an inside source.

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