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THE SPACE RACE TRANSFORMED

The Race to the Moon Is Revving Up Again—and This Time the Competitors Are Private

The superpower rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States saw both countries’ governments deploying massive budgets to be the first to the moon. Once there they explored its surface with rovers, alternating technological victories to demonstrate their world-power status. Now, half a century later, the battle for lunar supremacy is a private venture with dozens of players.

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1957
Sputnik

The U.S.S.R. captures the world’s imagination by launching humankind’s first artificial satellite into Earth’s orbit.

1961
JFK Speech

After the Soviets send three unmanned crafts to the moon, President John. F. Kennedy directs the U.S. to land “a man on the moon.”

Kennedy gives his famous speech to the U.S. Congress.

1969
Man on the Moon

The space race reaches a fever pitch as the U.S. delivers the first humans to the moon’s surface.

Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin turn a small step for man into a giant leap for mankind.

1970
Lunokhod 1

The first successful robotic lunar rover, remotely controlled from Russia by joystick, collects data on moon soil and topography. The Soviets’ second rover follows in 1973.

The lid opened to expose a solar array for daytime power.

1971
Apollo 15 LRV

The U.S.'s Apollo 15 sends men to the moon with a lunar roving vehicle, or LRV, to help them travel widely to collect samples, take photographs, and conduct experiments.

The wheels were made with zinc-coated piano wire.

1972
Apollo 16, 17

The following year, the U.S. sends two more LRV missions that together traverse nearly 40 miles of the moon’s surface.

Apollo 16 astronaut John Young collects lunar samples.

OVER THREE DECADES LATER…

2007
Google Announces Lunar XPrize

The age of the private space race ramps up with a $20 million prize. To win, a team must land a spacecraft, travel 500 meters, and send back high-res images and video.

2010
Privatizing the Race

More than two dozen teams from all over the world sign up to compete for Google’s Lunar XPrize.

2013
Yutu

Separate from the XPrize, China’s government joins the lunar exploration game with a rover equipped with ground-penetrating radar to measure layers of moon terrain.

The top opened to reveal solar panels and instruments.

2017
The Finalists

After a dangerous descent and tricky landing, the XPrize teams that have made all deadlines and remain in the race plan to hop or rove the required 500 meters, send the necessary video and images back to Earth, and claim their prize.

Clockwise from back left: Moon Express (U.S.A.), SpaceIL (Israel), Hakuto (Japan), Synergy Moon (international), and TeamIndus (India)

All XPrize contenders must launch by December 31, 2017. A successful mission would mark a significant milestone in the privatization of space exploration.

MANUEL CANALES, RYAN T. WILLIAMS, Eve Conant, ELENA SHEVEIKO, NGM STAFF. ART: TOMÁŠ MÜLLER


PHOTOS, FROM TOP: OFF/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; SCIENCE HISTORY IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO; NASA/ULLSTEIN BILD VIA GETTY IMAGES; CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES; XPRIZE


SOURCES: LAVOCHKIN ASSOCIATION, RUSSIA; NASA; Arizona State University; BEIJING INSTITUTE OF TRACKING AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY; NATIONAL ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORIES, CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES; XPRIZE; Moon Express; SpaceIL; Hakuto; Synergy Moon; TeamIndus



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