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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The U.S.S.R. captures the world’s imagination by launching humankind’s first artificial satellite into Earth’s orbit.
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.”
Man on the Moon
The space race reaches a fever pitch as the U.S. delivers the first humans to the moon’s surface.
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.
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.
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.
OVER THREE DECADES LATER…
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.
Privatizing the Race
More than two dozen teams from all over the world sign up to compete for Google’s Lunar XPrize.
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.
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.
All XPrize contenders must launch by December 31, 2017. A successful mission would mark a significant milestone in the privatization of space exploration.
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