7 September 2008
There is such a thing as a Google Lunar X Prize, which is a contest sponsored jointly between Google and the X Prize Foundation to encourage private investment in developing a commercial moon landing. That is to say, landing a rover on the moon without going through NASA or any other federally-mandated national space agency.
Now don't get me wrong, I adore NASA for all that it's done and is planning to do, but the agency is still at the beck and call of our government's legislative whims and fancies, to say nothing about the taxpayers who ultimately finance its bankroll. If Congress ain't happy, then NASA's funding slips even more. For this reason I completely support the entry of private, commercial enterprises into the field of space exploration, launching probes (and eventually humans) without having to rely on a government agency to do the job.
Enter the X Prize Foundation, which holds contests to support the freelance exploration of research to benefit humanity without government support. There are X Prizes for emission-less automobile development, human genome mapping, and an X Prize for cancer research is apparently being prepared. It is all to encourage new ideas and directions towards problems that can benefit the human race and, since each is privately funded by different organizations, there is no shortage of backers.
The X Prize has supported private spaceflight from its start, and you may recall the Ansari X Prize for developing a reusable vehicle capable of manned suborbital flight. The award went to Scaled Composites and their SpaceShipOne, which flew successfully on June 21, 2004. Its primary sponsor, Anousheh Ansari, was herself given the opportunity to visit the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-9 in September 2006. Additionally, an upcoming Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize will aim to develop a viable next-generation lunar lander, though that vehicle will remain Earth-bound, tested exhaustively on a specially prepared testing ground.
But this is supposed to be about the Google Lunar X Prize, the intent of which is to land a rover on the moon's surface and have it travel 500 meters, transmitting images and video back to Earth the entire time. While I wish I could say I were taking part in that league of the contest, I cannot. Instead, I entered a design in the Google Lunar X Prize T-shirt Design Competition. Mine was one among fifty entries that were due in by August 19. All fifty of these entries can be viewed on their site, though apparently only thirty-six qualified, the others being dismissed for breaking the rules (ie, non-United States entries, those that used the Google and/or X Prize logos, those that did not meet the image size requirements). I also suspect that those that emphasized American involvement or NASA's achievements didn't make the short list since the X Prize is about not relying on either of these two entities. There were only two winners, each of which won gift certificates to CafePress shops, from which the winning t-shirts will be sold. Not that I really cared about prize money when I entered this.
I'll bet you wanna know how I did, eh?
Alas, despite my best efforts I did not place. The winners were released late Thursday evening and, though at the time I was frustrated, I am better now. These things happen and maybe Northrop Grumman will need a t-shirt designed for their competition. Or maybe there will be other opportunities in the future. Who knows, but I'm not going to get down about this. There's always a next time. After all, this was just announced tonight, though I think that would take far more time and effort than I would be willing to allot to it.
As for my design, I tried to keep it under wraps during the drawing phase and then, after entering, I tried not to advertise my artwork, thereby placing a name and a face to the entry. Not that my writings here are well known across the Internet, but I didn't want to risk my luck. Also, as I said before, I didn't want to look like a turd if I didn't place. But now the contest's over and I can feel free to post my work.
The design features an orbital flight vector arching around the rim of the Earth and achieving cislunar orbit around the moon. An additional arm of the vector arcs off into the unknown, hinting at the next step in space exploration, journeying beyond the moon. The orbital vector forms the shape of an X, echoing the X Prize Foundation's role in the competition. The view of the Earth features all the nations participating in the lander competition, not simply the United States. This is not an American competition, but one that is open to the entire world.
In designing this emblem I'd like to extend thanks to the three advisers I went to when my eyes glossed over from staring at it for too long. Charles noted an issue with the shadow on the Earth (something that took me another two hours before I realized and fixed it), Ian complimented me on my color scheme, and Laura provided a wealth of brilliant artistic suggestions which improved the aesthetics of the image tenfold.
Finally, here's my initial two-minute proof-of-concept scribble that established the direction I wanted to go in and features the top of the orbital X coming back down behind the moon, something I changed fairly late in the Illustrator drawing process.
In the end I have not been embittered by my design not placing in the competition. To the contrary, I wish to congratulate Mr. Bennett and Ms. Schaeffer on their winning entries, both of which are well drawn and worthy of emblazoning the competition's t-shirts. Additionally, I remain as excited and gung-ho as ever for the Google Lunar X Prize and await with bated breath and eager anticipation to watch the winning team land their rover on the moon, opening up a new era of privately funded and operated exploration beyond the boundaries of the planet Earth.
There. I said I'd give more information than you'd ever care to hear.