Communion Of Dreams

“X” marks the (new) spot.

As I mentioned the other day, news of the new Google Lunar X Prize organized by Peter Diamandis is getting a fair amount of attention, and appropriately so. It’s good to see Diamandis pursuing his dream, as I wrote about in this post about the Heinlein Centennial Gala:

And then Peter Diamandis‘ brilliant, inspiring presentation about how he considered Heinlein to have written not just visionary fiction, but had actually mapped out a functional business plan with The Man Who Sold the Moon. Diamandis said his dream, his goal, was to be there to welcome NASA back to the Moon when the Constellation Program vehicle arrives. This brought a standing ovation and cheers.

Indeed. And with the new Google Lunar X Prize, there’s a fair chance that could actually happen. If private space companies can land a remote-operated vehicle on the Moon under the prize guidelines by 2013 (most people are of the opinion that it’ll happen sooner), then I’d bet that scaling up the tech used to accomplish that to have people – perhaps even Diamandis himself – on the Moon before NASA’s target date of 2020 for Constellation is certainly possible. Remember, we went from having barely function sub-orbital craft to the Apollo 11 Moonshot in just 8 years.

One of the things I find particularly interesting is a bonus possible under the Google Lunar X Prize guidelines. Here it is:

• BONUSES: An additional $5 million in bonus prizes can be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days).

That one bit right there in the middle that I bolded is what I’m talking about. It simultaneously nods to the accomplishments of NASA and also thumbs its nose at the agency. It perfectly sums up the mixed emotions many in the private sector feel about the government’s involvement in space exploration and development: respect for what was accomplished in the past, yet a burning desire to prove that the private players can do more, do it faster, and do it for less money.

I haven’t begun work on it yet, but one of the ‘intervening’ novels of my future history series (between Communion of Dreams and the prequel I’ve started titled St. Cybi’s Well) would be set sometime in the 2030s at one of the Israeli colonies on the Moon. The main character would be an artist who is on sabbatical there, exploring how the space environment effects an aesthetic sensibility. And one of the scenes I’ve envisioned would have him visiting the site of the first Lunar Landing, which has been carefully secured to preserve it as it was left by Armstrong and Aldrin, in order to use the site as inspiration. I must admit, I sort of hate the thought that there would be additional rover tracks there in order that someone could claim a bonus for the X Prize.

Jim Downey

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