Scientists are always competing against each other, but this contest seriously raises the stakes. Known as the X Prize, the competition spurs technological innovation by offering lavish cash prizes for the first teams to achieve a specific goal in a number of space-related fields.
The first challenge – to fly a three-person ship past the threshold of space twice in two weeks – netted the designers of SpaceShipOne a cool $10 million. The genius of such eight-figure carrots is that the money invested in pursuing it far outstrips the prize’s value. Investment in innovation sometimes needs a little incentivisation.
One of the prizes currently running is the Google Lunar X Prize, which awards a prize pool of $30 million to teams who can land a rover on the surface of the moon, travel 500 metres and send HD footage back to earth.
The deadline expires at the end of 2016, and the race to meet it appears to have generated a race of its own. Pittsburgh-based Team Astrobiotic has offered a ride to the moon for up to four other competitors who don’t have their own lunar transporter to get them there, allowing for what Popular Mechanics has described as a full-fledged ‘Formula 1 race on the moon’. Whole thing sounds harder than bullseyeing womp rats in a T–16 back home.