SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — In a cosmic case of role reversal, aspiring lunar entrepreneurs based on the Isle of Man have hired NASA to build them a robotic rover to send to the moon.
While it has historically been the US space exploration agency dishing out work to private contractors, Odyssey Moon said Thursday that it has contracted NASA as part of its mission to turn lunar travel into a money-making business.
Odyssey Moon is an international partnership that began its project about four years ago.
"The prospect for commercial delivery of NASA science and exploration instruments to the Moon is consistent with the precedents already set by the NASA COTS program supporting commercial supply for orbital operations," said NASA Ames research center director Pete Worden.
"Extending commercial supplier concepts and relationships to advance NASA's mandates for exploration and permanent operations on the Moon is a logical next step."
Odyssey Moon is among the private teams competing for a 30-million-dollar Lunar X Prize being offered by Internet search goliath Google.
Google announced the prize in 2007, challenging entrepreneurs to "re-conquer the moon" and launch a "Moon 2.0" era of private lunar visits and enterprises.
"People have not really thought through the potential the moon represents," Odyssey Moon chairman Ramin Khadem, a founder of private space satellite communications company Inmarsat, told AFP after the team's public debut that year at a Space Investment Summit.
"The moon is the eighth continent and we need to exploit it in a responsible way. We want to win the Google prize and, if we do, that will be gravy. But either way we are going to the moon."
Google partnered with the X Prize Foundation, which promotes private space exploration, to offer the prize.
The Google X Prize promises 20 million dollars to the first team to land a privately-funded craft on the moon, move it at least 500 meters (yards) and send "Mooncast" video back to Earth.
Millions more dollars in "bonus prizes" can we won by completing additional tasks on the moon.
The 30-million-dollar offer is good until 2012, when the amount of prize money drops to 25 million. All the prize money is taken from the table in 2014 if unclaimed.
The roster of technology entrepreneurs backing private space exploration includes Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
"I am extremely pleased and excited to be working on getting us back to the Moon in a sustainable way," said Odyssey Moon's freshly appointed president Jay Honeycutt.
"I believe the private sector has an important role to play in a permanent and affordable lunar program."
Khadem envisions solar power farms on the moon to help sate mankind's hunger for affordable energy. He also sees the moon as a staging ground for deeper space missions.
Odyssey Moon has hired Canadian technology firm MDA as its prime contractor on the project.
The Isle of Man, a crown dependency of Britain, has crafted its laws and tax structures to attract private space exploration businesses.
Among the firms based there are Inmarsat and aspiring space tourism business Excalibur Almaz.
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