Google the Moon
Famed roboticist Red Whittaker may have the inside track to win the next moon race.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, January 01, 2008
Courtesy of www.tartanracing.org
(Page 3 of 3)
The way these things work, you fundamentally get one shot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dirt race or the Olympics or a champion fight or a moon shot. It happens in a moment in time, it’s out there, tangibly in front of God and the world. For me, [the Google Lunar X Prize] resonates, there’s no question, it fires me up, it inspires me, it fits me like a glove. It is going to be something that inspires a generation. In [the Urban Challenge] there were thousands of individuals who gave it heart and soul, gave it years and years of their lives. It starts by believing—the fact that you believe doesn’t mean that it will be so, but if you start without the belief, it’s a pretty sure bet that it is impossible for you. So the idea is to put together something that appears beyond reach, appears unachievable, at least within the constraints of the moment.
A&S: Do you think there’s enough time to meet the 2012 deadline?
Whittaker: In this kind of a prize, if you run too hard and go to launch too quickly, and things are too shaky, you fail for reasons of technical failure or not meeting the criteria. What that means is, you have to do everything or you might as well have done nothing. In other words, there’s no payment for partial landing, or a partial traverse, or falling short on the mooncast or something like that. Of course, if you wait too long then it’s a sure bet that others will succeed.
I keep going back to flying across the ocean—Lindbergh conceived and ordered up an airplane, right? So did the others. Some of them chose tri-motors—three engines—so they’d be sure if something happened they could get back. Lindbergh said How about one, let’s roll all the dice. Those are just variables of risk and redundancy…. I think there’s no barrier whatever for someone, somewhere, to succeed in the 2012 time frame.
A&S: Do you think that all the problems are beat, or is there technology still to develop?
Whittaker: The unique technology might be as bold as integrating everything into a miniature monolithic spacecraft, so that the thing that flies is the thing that lands, is the thing that rolls, is the thing that broadcasts. And that would require a leap of technical gymnastics. And then, the X Prize victor will be a rolling TV station…because a robotic space mission is so limited in landed mass, everything that lands is used in some way to achieve the goals. And the X Prize goals are very clear. These robots are clearly not going to be the last lunar robots. We’ve talked about so many different objectives that might be pursued, and each of them is different, and each of them would be a great X Prize victory. [A team might revisit the Russian rover] Lunokhod in the highlands, or go to the equatorial mares. Somebody who would go after ice discovery would target the polar regions that might harbor ice. So each of those is a different mission. It could be that diverse teams approach those for different reasons.
A&S: We’ll be following this story in the coming years.
Whittaker: Not too many years, I hope.