Google can’t resist a moon shot, but this one is literal: A decade ago, the company announced the Google Lunar X Prize—$20 million for the first private firm to build a robot that can soft-land on the surface of the moon, travel 500 meters, and beam hi-def video back to Earth.
Now, after multiple extensions and a couple of flameouts, five teams are racing toward the March 2018 launch deadline, and the cutest contender might be the MX-1E, an R2-D2–shaped lander designed by space startup Moon Express. At roughly the size of Danny DeVito, the MX-1E fits inside a launch vehicle from partnering company Rocket Lab; once the craft detaches and shoots moonward, its engine and thrusters slow it down so the moon’s gravity can help gently guide its descent.
Hydrogen peroxide, so the MX-1E could theoretically refuel with moon H2O2
3-D printed out of the heat-resistant superalloy Inconel
Its legs also help the craft hop across the moon’s surface.
Bob Richards, a self-described “space entrepreneur” and Moon Express’ cofounder and CEO, envisions a future in which the moon is mined for resources—not necessarily for export back to Earth† but to power further space travel, using Luna as a launching point. (Moon water could provide the hydrogen and oxygen needed to make rocket fuel, for example.)
As for full-on lunar colonies? “I love the thought of kids looking up and seeing lights on the moon,” Richards says. Guess you can’t have a moon shot without a little bit of cheese.
†According to WIRED’s resident physicist, Rhett Allain, even by nearly doubling the value of platinum (one of the moon’s most valuable metals) miners would need to export more than 23 million kilos—the weight of 55 International Space Stations—to break even.
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