It’s been almost four decades since a spacecraft safely landed on the Moon. But a new generation of landers and rovers could take aim at the Moon over the next few years. And some of those missions could come not from NASA or the governments of other countries, but from private companies. In fact, more than two dozen companies are competing for the Google X Lunar Prize - a $30 million check to the first to put a successful rover on the lunar surface by the end of 2015.
There are a few other conditions for the prize money. The rover will have to cover at least 500 meters, and beam back useful video and other data. And most of the funding has to come from private sources, not governments.
Some of the competitors are pondering plans to touch down close to older landers - one of the Apollo sites, for example. But those sites are like extraterrestrial historic monuments - places that future generations will want to visit and study. So NASA has recommended that future missions keep their distance, especially from the remains of Apollo 11 and Apollo 17, the first and last manned landings. That will keep the footprints of the first generation of lunar exploration undisturbed for future generations to enjoy.
Apollo 11 landed in a dark volcanic plain known as the Sea of Tranquility. And it’s in good view tonight, at the top center of the lunar disk as night falls. And the bright star Regulus, the heart of the lion, stands above the Moon.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013