Google's Space Race: Cannonball Run for the 21st Century

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-02-22 Print this article Print


The blogosphere is brimming with news of the 10 contestants for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, which the gambit's site expertly describes in marketing speak as "a robotic race to the Moon to win a remarkable $30 million in prizes."

Is this Google's way of getting in on the ground floor of extraterrestrial advertising?

In this Cannonball Run for the modern age, 10 teams will try to land a robotic craft on the moon, have it crawl at least 500 meters, and send video, images and data back to Earth. The teams were introduced Thursday afternoon at an event at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. 

The team that succeeds gets $20 million; $5 million goes for the second team to do this, while $5 million in bonuses will be doled out to those who get fresh footage of lunar ice or something presumably extraterrestrial. How much will a sack of little green men fetch?

Time is precious; the grand prize winner only gets the $20 million if the team succeeds by Dec. 31, 2012. Two years later, it drops to $15 million, and if no one does it by Dec. 31, 2014, the competition is off unless Google and the X PRIZE Foundation extend it.

From the digital ink this is getting today (Fridays can be slow news days), you'd think it was Google that had announced its intention to acquire Yahoo, not Microsoft. Space is great and all, but why does Google want to mess with it? Its domain is firmly on Earth, along with the rest of the Internet users, no?

Well, yes, but I'm beginning to recognize that Google has grander ambitions. Check out this quote from yesterday's press release, which I link to here so you can read up on the contestants I'm not going to write about.   

"We look forward to the exciting achievements and scientific advancements that will result from the efforts of these teams as they participate in the next great space race," said Megan Smith, Google's vice president for new business development.

What does new business development have to do with Google co-sponsoring a friendly competition among space entrepreneurs?

For now, likely nothing. Perhaps Google is sowing the seeds for when we populate the moon and it can be the first to plant an American flag in extraterrestrial advertising.

If this sounds so highfalutin, don't forget that Google's goal is to put its Internet applications and services in front of as many people as possible, and to make money by serving folks ads they can click on.

The meat of the competition is in transmitting data between a computer on the moon and one on Earth, so in reality the end goal is very much in line with Google's business model.

What we need is a spoiler for this group of spacemongering Burt Reynolds, some sort of Jackie Gleason character to step up and try to thwart them. It would make this Cannonball Run more fun for us Earthlings. |

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