Is China About to Scoop the Google Lunar XPRIZE?
A Long March-3B rocket carrying China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Dec. 2, 2013 in Xichang, China. The lunar probe is now in moon orbit.
42 years after the first moon rover transported the Apollo 15 astronauts over the lunar terrain, here are a selection of NASA photos taken by Apollo 15 commander David Scott and Lunar Module pilot James Irwin during their wheeled 1971 lunar adventure while Alfred Worden, command module pilot, remained in orbit about the moon.
Shown here, after three highly successful EVAs, Scott walks away from the first ever Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), a location where it remains to this day.
(All photos are sourced from NASA's excellent Human Spaceflight Gallery: http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/gallery/index.html)
An artist's concept of the Apollo 15 Hadley-Apennine landing area showing the two moon-exploring crewmen, Scott and Irwin, driving on the lunar rover.
The lunar rover was attached to the lunar module and lowered to the surface and unfolded by the Apollo surface crew. When packed, the rover took up a volume of only four cubic feet.
Scott and Irwin drive the Lunar Roving Vehicle trainer called "Grover" during a simulation of lunar surface extravehicular activity in Taos, New Mexico.
Scott (right) and Irwin test out the lunar rover before the Apollo 15 mission to the moon at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., in May 1971.
Gover is driven up to the edge of a man-made crater in Cinder Lake crater field in Arizona to simulate the lunar landscape.
On July 31, 1971, the first lunar rover is unpacked during the first surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site on the moon. The lunar module, "Falcon," is shown here with the rover and lunar module pilot James Irwin.
The US flag is unfolded and planted toward the end of the Apollo 15 mission; Irwin salutes.
The rover was an invaluable workhorse during the Apollo 15 mission, boosting the scope of how much of the lunar landscape around the Hadley-Apennine landing site the astronauts could explore.
Irwin stops the lunar rover from sliding downhill during the second Apollo 15 lunar EVA. Both of the rover's rear wheels appear to be off the ground. Scott was working on a fresh crater at the Apennine Front (Hadley Delta Mountain) when the vehicle started to slide down the 20 degree slope. Fortunately, the rover was stopped and the astronauts were able to continue their work.
A $30 million Google-backed competition to land a spacecraft on the moon may be about to be scooped. China’s Chang’e 3 probe successfully put itself into lunar orbit on Friday in preparation for an attempted touchdown around Dec. 14.
China won’t be winning the prize money, which is reserved for privately funded, previously enrolled teams, not government agencies.
The contest, which was unveiled in 2007, was open to teams worldwide and at one time did include a group from China, but they dropped out, said Alexandra Hall, program director with the X Prize Foundation, which is running the competition.
Twenty million dollars is in the offing for the first X Prize team that successfully lands a robotic spacecraft on the moon, travels at least 500 meters above, below or on the lunar surface and transits two broadcasts back to Earth before Dec. 31, 2015.
Getting there second is worth $5 million. There also are $4 million in potential bonus prizes for teams that hit some specific milestones, such as finding water, surviving the lunar night or making a precision landing near an Apollo or other historic site.
Not counting probes that crashed into the moon (deliberately, such as NASA’s water-hunting LCROSS impactor, or otherwise), the last landing on the lunar surface was in 1976 when the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 spacecraft touched down to drill out some soil samples and fly them back to Earth.
So far, only the United States and the Soviet Union have pulled off moon landings, but that may be about to change. In mid-December China aims to land a rover, known as “Yutu” -- Chinese for “Jade Rabbit” -- in an area known as the Sea of Rainbows.
With radioactive-laced heaters to ward off the deadly cold of lunar night, Yutu is designed to spend up to about three months driving around the surface of the moon, taking pictures and operating a range of science instruments.
“Of course it would have been exciting to have the first return to the moon be a private one. I think that would give the whole private space industry a boost. But I don’t think that anyone is seriously comparing what a nation like the Chinese can spend on something to what a small, private company is doing and saying ‘Bad on you, private company, for not getting there in time.’ It isn’t apples-to-apples,” Hall told Discovery News.
“I do think this will shine a positive spotlight back on the moon and allow the teams to really tell their stories of what they’re doing in order to get back to the moon and why it’s valuable,” Hall said.
“I don’t think there is anything negative coming from this,” she added.
A recent update in the teams’ legal agreement with the X Prize Foundation removed a $5 million penalty if a government entity got to the surface of the moon first, but Hall said that had nothing to do with China’s lunar ambitions.
The decision to drop the penalty was made two years ago, but the due to administrative reasons the foundation waited until September for to make the change, along with the addition of new milestone prize offerings, Hall said.
“We’re actually really excited to be watching the Chinese right now. I can only imagine the emotion, the stress that they must be going through. Landing on the moon is a really tough thing to do.
“The emotions that they are probably going through right are those that our teams very much want to experience,” she added.