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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Editorial: UA shoots the moon

    The UA’s Phoenix Mars Lander is well on its way to touching down on the surface of the Red Planet this May. Now, a team of scientists from the UA hopes to land on the moon, too.

    Last week, the X Prize Foundation, in partnership with Google, announced the first 10 teams registered to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million award for the first privately-funded mission to land a rover on the moon. The UA is among them, as part of a joint venture between our own Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Tucson’s Raytheon Missile Systems. Competing to win the moon prize is a great idea for the UA, as a world leader in space exploration, but it’s an even better idea for humanity as a whole.

    The X Prize is designed to stimulate interest and invention in lunar exploration, but the novel project is an innovation in itself: Unlike the Phoenix mission, a massive $325 million project underwritten by NASA, the X Prize requires teðams to be 90 percent privately funded.

    Encouraging private investment in space exploration will make space travel available to more people for more purposes. It can also encourage innovation that government sponsorship overlooks. The team that won the last X Prize – for launching a human into sub-orbital space – developed several novel safety features and reached orbit at a fraction of the cost of other space ventures. Even better, the $10 million spent on the last prize encouraged over $100 million in private space research. In fact, that’s an explicit goal of the project: to encourage a return on investment at least ten times the value of the prize purse.

    Opening the doors to commercial spaceflight and exploration is a goal with benefit for all mankind.

    Of course, the project is open to any team that wants to apply, so if you’re interested in claiming a cool $30 million, get working. The rules for taking a (moon) shot at the prize are simple. Just launch and land a robotic rover on the surface of the moon, drive around for 500 meters, and beam back a “”mooncast”” – a gigabyte or so of high-definition images and video. Sounds simple, right?

    Fortunately, the UA’s team is well-positioned to do just that. Raytheon’s matchless missiles, which usually get attention for blowing up insurgents in Iraq, will be put to a nobler use sending a robotic rover into space. William Whitaker, the researcher heading up the team from Carnegie Mellon, is an expert in building clever robots – and he’s already won a few prizes of his own, including the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency’s 2007 Urban Challenge, an annual race between robotic, driverless cars. Finally, the UA is a leader in space imaging, with the resources ready to run a complete space mission.

    Private exploration is lighter, leaner and smarter than lumbering government projects, and we’re glad the UA is playing an important role in the future of space exploration. Google may be paying for the prize, and the UA may be a formidable competitor, but it’s humans everywhere who will reap its rewards.

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