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You know someplace where humans have been already? The Moon. Someplace else we’ve been? Stonehenge. Do we stop going? No, they’re both still awesome. The Google Lunar XPrize is a competition where teams of scientists, engineers, and professors get together and try to land a spacecraft on the Moon and accomplish various goals. And there are 30 million dollars of prizes at stake.

But what’s really fascinating about this space-competition is the fact that it has the name Google attached to it. It’s nothing new that private industry is becoming increasingly involved in the spaceflight industry––SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are two names that come to mind––but Google isn’t a space company, Google is a search engine (more or less). Google has a large purse ($24 billion in revenue in 2009), but 30 million dollars is still nothing to scoff at. It begs the question: what does Google have to gain from sponsoring the Lunar XPrize?

Investment in space exploration and technology has paid off in the past. From the Apollo missions came satellites, an enormously influential and lucrative technology. NASA’s NASTRAN (NASA Structural Analysis Program) was developed to design spacecraft and is now used to design anything from cars to roller coasters. Spaceflight is an industry that is going to expand and end up being very lucrative, once it’s perfected. Incentivizing small teams who work on a very tight budget is a great way to push for the development of more efficient technologies. Once these efficient technologies have been developed, larger projects can be more feasibly tackled. Improving space tourism, putting permanent bases on the Moon, and establishing mining operations on the Moon are just some of the goals that the teams aspire to. To add further legitimacy to these lofty plans, it’s NASA goal to establish a permanent base on the moon in the next 20 years.

Google has spent a lot of time and money diversifying its portfolio. YouTube, Boston Dynamics (you know, that robotics company), and Songza are just a few purchases that have been made by the company. Sponsoring the Lunar XPrize is a way for Google to get involved in an industry that is going to be BIG in the future. Now that it’s leg is firmly in the door, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see further involvement by Google. It’s an investment–but a fascinating, nerdy, betterment-of-mankind-type one. The competition has a cutoff date of December 31st 2015, and it will be fascinating to see how the teams fare. But after it’s over, what will be Google’s next space-move? Only time will tell, and she’s a silent gal.

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