Have you ever marvelled at the experience of Neil Armstrong and wished to explore space yourself one day? Well, you could land yourself a prize money of US$20 million if you can land a rover in space by 2012. The rover must land itself on the lunar surface and roam for at least 500 meters. It must also send back pictures, images, data or video of its rendezvous.

The Google Lunar X Prize, a one-of-its-kind competition the brainchild of X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, is aimed at expanding the process of discovery beyond earth and inspiring dreams. There are currently 13 teams vying for the prize and the X Prize Foundation expects the number of participating teams to grow to about 25. The contestants include Americans, Italians, Romanians and a “mystery team.”The competition has attracted contenders from all walks of life including university scientists, business people, engineers, robotics experts and students.

The competition itself is full of daunting challenges. Teams have to plan the mission carefully in order to, sustain the arduous and dangerous journey into space, land safely, as well as cope with the extreme conditions on the moon. Temperature, radiation, and the terrain can easily sabotage the mission. It’s the ultimate challenge for those who think they can give NASA a run for their money. As such, the prize money may serve only as an incentive and not even cover the cost of the project because space exploration is expensive business. Teams are collaborating with companies and government agencies to send ashes to space or ship equipment for NASA.

By opening the space race to the mass public and offering big prize money, Google might just unearth unsuspected talent and leapfrog the whole process of discovering the mysteries of celestial space by leaps and bounds. Democratising space exploration could bring science and space closer to the ordinary man on the street. “We believe that space should be open to anyone and everyone, especially those people who want to go,” said Becky Ramsey, the X Prize Foundation’s director of communications for space projects. It’s about passion, drive, determination, talent and achieving a dream. It’s also about business on a new frontier.

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