A number of space experts say the key incentive for going back to the moon is water.
Elon Musk. Francois Mori/AP
A real lunar race that has been in the making for years is now in the final stretch.
The Google Lunar XPrize Foundation recently announced five final teams that will compete for the honor of being the first private group to land on the moon — and a $20 million prize.
The Google Lunar XPrize is more than pronouncements by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. It will prove the utility of commercial lunar exploration.
Sometime before the end of 2017, one or more of the final five groups will shoot for the moon. The Final Five are Moon Express, SpaceIl, Synergy Moon, Team Indus, and Team Hakuto.
All the winning team has to do to gain the prize is to cross a quarter of a million miles of space, soft land on the lunar surface, return high resolution videos and images to Earth, and move 500 meters from the landing site.
For a national space agency, such would be a minor accomplishment. For a small, private group, it would be a feat that would compare to the Apollo moon landing.
The Google Lunar XPrize race to the moon lacks the media drama that the Apollo program enjoyed, at least so far. Moon Race 2.0 is not a contest between two superpowers with immense stakes in the Cold War in the balance.
Neil Armstrong, waving in front, heads for the van that will take the crew to the rocket for launch to the moon on July 16, 1969. AP
The new race to the moon seeks to prove that a private group can land on the lunar surface and do useful things at a fraction of the cost that a government space agency can manage. The competitors do not come from enemy countries, either. SpaceIl, Team Indus, and Team Hakuto are based in Israel, India, and Japan, respectively. All are friends of the United States.
The private race to the moon will have an impact on what government space agencies do. The Trump administration is mulling pivoting NASA back to the moon.
If and when that happens, the space agency will have an asset that it lacked in the 1960s when it last went to the moon: commercial space companies like Moon Express, its main American rival Astrobotic, and rocket firms like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, is the frontrunner to be NASA administrator, a job he has signaled that he would like to be nominated for.
Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, is the frontrunner to be NASA administrator. He recently laid out a plan to return to the moon. Sue Ogrocki/AP
He recently laid out what a return to the moon program might look like. It would include the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System and a commercially developed lunar lander. Thus, the old-style NASA that landed men on the moon almost 50 years ago will ally with the new space commercial companies planning landings on the lunar surface this year. Bridenstine agrees with a number of space experts, such as Dr. Paul Spudis, that the key incentive for going back to the moon is water.
The lunar poles have billions of tons of ice trapped in darkened areas of craters. The ice can be refined into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the components of rocket fuel.
Lunar-refined rocket fuel can not only be used as a propellant for spacecraft headed to deep space destinations such as Mars but also for maintaining a new generation of satellites that can be refueled and maintained to lengthen their operational lifespans.
At least one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPrize, Moon Express, aspires to mine the moon for its resources, including its water.
At least one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPrize, Moon Express, aspires to mine the moon for its resources, including its water. Tor Wennstrom/AP
NASA should start an undertaking like the commercial crew program. Call it the lunar crew program.
Just as the commercial crew endeavor has resulted in the development of government-funded but privately-run spacecraft, such as the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner, lunar crew could develop moon landers that could take people and cargo to the lunar surface.
The Google Lunar XPrize would be the proof of that concept. Blue Origins' Jeff Bezos has already suggested that his company stands ready for such an effort if NASA gives the go ahead.
Sometime shortly, an event could happen on the surface of the moon that has not been witnessed in decades. A human being from the planet Earth could put a footprint in the lunar soil in full view of billions watching on television and via Internet streaming.
A few years later, a new community could rise on the surface of the moon, a center of science and commerce, for the benefit of humankind, ushering in a new space age.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has just published a political study of space exploration entitled "Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?" He is also published in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, and elsewhere. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
Get the latest Google stock price here.
- Elon Musk Is Sticking With Trump For SpaceX Contracts
- Lobbyists helped bankroll Donald Trump’s transition
- 'This is Canada's moment:' what investing in agri-food could mean for the farm
- The upcoming 'Good Wife' spinoff is going to be can't-miss TV
- The insane true story behind one of the most legendary feuds in Hollywood
- 'Game of thrones' actress is annoyed by leaks, calls them 'childish, annoying'
- Mark Hamill is still angry at 'Star Wars' fans for reaction to the prequels
- Roberta Bondar on how the Challenger disaster changed spaceflight
- 'Suicide Squad' director admits he made mistakes on the 'controversial' movie
- Scientists are banding together to fight a looming threat from the Trump administration
- QNX looking to drive up interest in Kanata autonomous vehicle hub
- Last Year Was Warmest on Record, Climate Experts Say
You might also like
- Australian e-waste ending up in toxic African dump, torn apart by children
- Popular Oklahoma home builder among 6 indicted on federal stolen property charges
- OKC Auto Show Appearing in New State Fair Park Venue
- Businesses around the metro gearing up for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon
- ‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders’ 2017 Live Stream: Watch Season 2 Premiere Online
- Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner Call Off Divorce: REPORT
- Robert Osborne Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
- Andy Mauer, Harvey Levin’s Partner: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
- Harvey Levin: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
- ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7: Sigils Teaser Analysis & Clues [PHOTOS]
- Conservative leadership hopefuls grant interviews to anti-Islam, pro-white ‘journalist’
- Saint John police say no charges contemplated in NB hockey brawl, league looking into suspension
- Powerful South Carolina political consultant implicated in indictments of a veteran state senator
- Will Donald Trump get a second Supreme Court nomination?
- "Hazing" rituals await Supreme Court's "junior justice" Neil Gorsuch
- The hunt is on for Planet Nine. Here's how to join it
- Trump approves controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
- Trump praises 'Fox & Friends,' renews old feuds in early morning tweets
- Rex Tillerson finally answers question from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell
- First Read's Morning Clips: The Latest in the Russia Investigation
- Spicer: 'I've let the president down'
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday
- OMB Diriector Mick Mulvaney: Washington's 'a lot more broken' than Trump thought
- Trump attacks conservatives over failure of health care bill
- A very consequential week didn't go well for President Trump
- Health Care Showdown: Republicans look to go big or go home
- No deal on health care bill after conservatives meet with Trump
- CA gov on those supporting health bill: 'Their name is going to be mud'
- Give it to me straight, doc: Is Obamacare dying?
- First Read's Morning Clips: Waiting for CBO
- 14 People Share What's It's Really Like to Have An Ex Who Is Now Their In-Law
- The Internet Is Freaking Out About The Way This Chef Cuts Pizza
- The hunt is on for Planet Nine. Here's how to join it
- Israeli prime minister talks of a snap election amid concerns over a new public broadcaster
- U.S. condemns suspected Syrian chemical attack on civilians, but says the Assad government is a 'political reality'
- Canada's largest school board will end class trips to the U.S. due to Trump's travel restrictions
- Warplanes strike Syrian town already hit by chemical attack
- Vigilantes prowl Europe's border with a target: Muslim migrants
- A letter from Britain to the European Union will trigger the 'Brexit' process March 29
- Ukraine president suggests a Kremlin-orchestrated attack after former Russian lawmaker is shot dead in Kiev
- Russian officials say St. Petersburg subway blast killed at least 11 and injured dozens
- As death toll in hospital attack soars to 50, Afghanistan investigates whether it was an inside job
- South Korea's ousted leader moves out of palace, apologizes for 'not fulfilling my duties'
- A brazen political killing shakes Myanmar, already teetering on the path to democracy
- India's Narendra Modi leads his party to victory in a state with more than 200 million people
- A controversial Thai monk is wanted in connection with a fraud case. His followers won't give him up
- Another Dalit suicide on campus raises fears of a crisis of discrimination at Indian universities
- Syrian government insists it does not use chemical weapons; US vows serious response to attack
- Bodies of U.N. workers and interpreter found in Congo, prompting calls for investigation
- Hamas hangs 3 Palestinians in Gaza it says were collaborating with Israel
- Basque group ETA hands over weapons, ammunition and explosives to France
- Syrian ally Iran blasts U.S. missile strikes as 'dangerous, destructive and a violation of international law'