The race to the moon is heating up. Soon the Google Lunar XPrize will hand out $30 million in prizes to privately-funded teams who can send a robot to the moon, move 500 meters across its surface, and send pictures back to Earth.
According the contest rules, contestants had until December 31, 2016 to book a seat on a rocket ride to the moon. Five teams out of the original 34 have made it past this crucial checkpoint. These missions must launch before December 31, 2017 in order to get a shot at the $20 million grand prize and $5 million second place prize (and another $5 million total in smaller prizes).
But the teams don't necessarily have to complete their missions before the year's end, according to an update from the XPrize Foundation:
In recognition of the diverse mission plans of each finalist team, XPRIZE made an update to the guidelines to require that the launch is initiated by the December 31, 2017 deadline, instead of completed.
The rule tweak aids teams who need to spend a little bit more time in orbit around the moon before moving in for a landing. As long as each team launches before the end of 2017, they can take their time getting to the finish line. . . although the first team to land will get the glory of becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to touch down on the lunar surface.
Here are the five teams who are shooting for the moon.