The space race of the mid-20th century was one of the modern era’s greatest periods of concentrated scientific innovation. From putting the first human on the Moon in 1969 to then sending the last person to walk on its surface up in 1972, the United States has been fueled by curiosity and Russian competition to do the seemingly impossible.
It has been more than 44 years since the last human walked on the Moon, and the most recent Moon landing was conducted by China in 2013 with their Chang’e 3 mission. The U.S. has long since turned its attention over to Mars as the next frontier, but there is still much to be learned from studying the Moon — Google’s betting millions on it.
Back in 2007, Google announced its Lunar XPRIZE competition. The goal of the project was to facilitate healthy competition to get human technology back on the Moon. Out of the 16 teams that made it to last year, only five are left with a chance to make it to the $20 million waiting for them at the finish line. The first team to successfully launch a spacecraft, land it on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters (1,640 feet), and transmit pictures and video from the surface before December 31, 2017, takes home the prize.
According to XPRIZE senior director Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, “Each of these teams has pushed the boundaries to demonstrate that you don’t have to be a government superpower to send a mission to the Moon while inspiring audiences to pursue the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” The competition shifts focus back to the Moon and will hopefully inspire new generations to develop an interest in STEM fields. The competition also embodies a spirit of healthy international competition and cooperation to energize the sciences across the globe.