XPrize CEO likes Lunar Lion’s chances

lfalce@centredaily.comApril 1, 2014 

Peter Diamandis thinks Penn State has a real shot at something stellar. Well, maybe not stellar, but definitely out of this world.

The physician, engineer and entrepreneur was at Penn State’s Shaping the Future Summit on Tuesday, talking to students working on the Lunar Lion, the university’s entry in the Google Lunar XPrize competition. The incentive: $30 million in prize money for the group that puts something on the moon and transmits back information. To date, only three groups in history have done it. The United States, the Soviet Union and China. Eighteen teams are in contention.

“You have something all of the other teams don’t have,” XPrize CEO Diamandis told the group. That asset is the university, with a built-in wealth of departments to draw on, like the earth and mineral sciences effort that recently 3-D mapped a section of the moon for them, an area north of the Apollo 11 landing site that even NASA hasn’t gotten around to charting. Or the 3-D printing lab on campus. Or maybe most important, the vast bank of connections.

The Lunar Lion is within reach of its goal, touching down on the moon’s surface. What stands in the way? About $20 million. Diamandis tutored the group in tenacity on that front.

“Somewhere out there, there is someone who will say yes,” he said.

They can’t give up, he stressed, because the future is at stake. A future where everything changes, where people with ideas make the difference because they take the chances, unlike governments or corporations.

“Your job is not to do it safely,” said Diamandis. “Your job is to say ‘Why can’t we do it this way?’ ”

Lunar Lion adviser Michael Paul says that’s something the group has already learned. They borrowed an engine from NASA, but government technology can be a little behind cutting edge sometimes. The students took it apart, thought it over, and put it back together again, a little bit different. Now NASA doesn’t want its original engine back. The agency wants more of the improved model.

Paul says the group is looking to power the lander with affordable engines from Mexico that members similarly rebuild to suit their purposes — and their budget.

The project is progressing, with money already down to secure the Lion’s launch. They have until December 2015 to reach the moon to qualify for the prize.

Diamandis is enthusiastic about the Penn State group’s potential.

“The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea,” he said. “You will never look at the moon the same way again.”

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