Pow! Right to the Moon

Peter Diamandis is at it again. I'm sitting in a room at the 2006 International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles, where Diamandis is announcing his latest prize to spur entrepreneurial space innovation. (Diamandis, as you'll probably recall, is the impresario behind the $10-million Ansari X Prize, which spurred a race to develop a privately-funded suborbital spaceship that culminated in the successful November 2004 flights of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne<.) This time, in conjunction with NASA's Centennial Challenges program, he's got his eye on the moon—specifically, landing on it. His Lunar Lander Challenge will award cash prizes in two categories, to be demonstrated and judged at this year's X Prize Cup in New Mexico. Build a lander that can successfully rise to a height of 50 meters, stay aloft for 90 seconds while traveling 100 meters, land without incident on a flat landing pad, then repeat the feat, and you'll score $350,000. Upping the ante a bit, if your lander can stay aloft for twice as long and land on a surface that simulates the moon's surface, you're looking at a $1.25-million payday. You'd better get working, though, because time is tight: The X Prize Cup runs from October 18 to 21. —Mark Jannot