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Friday, December 7, 2007

Google announced the prize , challenging entrepreneurs to "re-conquer the moon" and launch a "Moon 2.0" era of private lunar visits and enterprises.

Entrepreneurs aim for the moon, and 30 million bucks

Odyssey Moon from the Isle of Man stepped forward Thursday as the first private team intent on exploring the moon and claiming Google's 30-million-dollar Lunar X Prize.

Google announced the prize in September, challenging entrepreneurs to "re-conquer the moon" and launch a "Moon 2.0" era of private lunar visits and enterprises.

"People have not really thought through the potential the moon represents," Odyssey Moon chairman Ramin Khadem, a founder of Inmarsat, told AFP after the team's public debut at the Space Investment Summit in San Jose, California.

"The moon is the eighth continent and we need to exploit it in a responsible way. We want to win the Google prize and, if we do, that will be gravy. But either way we are going to the moon."

Google partnered with the X Prize Foundation, which promotes private space exploration, to offer the prize.

The 30-million-dollar offer to the first private team to make it to the moon is good until 2012, when the amount of money drops to 25 million. All the prize money is taken from the table in 2014 if unclaimed.

"The Moon is a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on Earth -- energy independence and climate change," Google says in a posting on its website.
Already, governments from around the world recognize the importance of lunar exploration."

The Google X Prize promises 20 million dollars to the first team to land a privately-funded craft on the moon, move it at least 500 meters and send "Mooncast" video back to Earth.

Millions more dollars in "bonus prizes" can we won by completing additional tasks on the moon.

Odyssey Moon is the first team to pay the 10,000-dollar registration fee and qualify to compete.

"We hope the announcement will motivate and inspire even more teams to enter this race," said X Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis.

"I think that people are beginning to stand up and take notice of the fact there are a lot of very smart millionaires and billionaires investing in space."

The roster of technology entrepreneurs backing private space exploration includes Google founders Larry Page and Serge Brin; Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and founder Jeff Bezos, Diamandis notes.

"Explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries who set out to find new worlds were probably asked why they were doing it," Khadem said. "Look at the riches and wonders they discovered."

Odyssey Moon is an international partnership that began the project about three years ago.

"Ours will be a small robot," Khadem said, explaining his team's mission is modest in comparison to manned space travel funded by national governments.

"We are out to complement, not compete with, China, Russia and the US."

Khadem envisions solar power farms on the moon to help sate mankind's hunger for affordable energy. He also sees the moon as a staging ground for deeper space missions.

"I think the returns can be enormous," said Khadem, who is also chairman of the International Space University.

Odyssey Moon has hired Canadian technology firm MDA as its prime contractor on the project.

The Isle of Man, a crown dependency of Britain, has crafted its laws and tax structures to attract private space exploration businesses, according to its director of space commerce, Tim Craine.

Among the firms based there are private space satellite communications company Inmarsat and aspiring space tourism business Excalibur Almaz.

"If you tell people you have offshore banking they nod," Craine said. "But if you say your home to a space program you ignite their interest."

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