|For a time it looked like the Google Lunar XPRIZE was a failure, another pie-in-the-sky space age dream never to materialize. When it was announced in 2007, the $30-million competition to land and operate a privately funded spacecraft on the moon was slated to conclude by 2012. |
Getting to the moon, its organizers thought, should not take more than five years. Instead, the contest has gone through multiple rule revisions and deadline extensions as its competing teams struggled to make progress. Now, after enduring several quiet years and waning public interest, the competition is at last reheating and reentering the spotlight.
Nine of the 16 competing teams are featured in Moon Shot, a new Web series produced by the filmmaker J. J. Abrams, and several of them appear on track to reach the moon by the stipulated deadline, December 31, 2017. But there is one team arguably in the lead ... SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization.
Like the contest itself, SpaceIL has followed a roller-coaster trajectory to the moon. Yonatan Winetraub, presently a biophysics PhD student at Stanford University, along with two friends, Yariv Bash and Kfir Damari, conceived their mission in a pub in 2010, and filed their paperwork with the XPRIZE Foundation mere minutes before the entry deadline.
For years they worked in relative obscurity. Then, last year, SpaceIL made headlines by becoming the first of the competing teams to purchase a verified launch contract, a giant leap toward making the lunar flight a reality. If all goes well, its 500-kilogram spacecraft, informally dubbed Sparrow, will hitch a ride to the moon sometime in 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket chartered through private aerospace company Spaceflight Industries. Scientific American spoke with Winetraub about SpaceIL plans.
Read on and watch the Moon Shot documentaries. Very well done.