Space See Inside Entrepreneurs Race to Get a Rover on the Moon and Win $30 Million The next rover to roam the moon's surface may come not from NASA and its rocket scientists but from college students and private companies working on a shoestring By Michael Belfiore Photograph by Andrew Hetherington On a muddy, rubble-strewn field on the banks of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, a five-foot-tall pyramidal robot with twin camera eyes slowly rotates on four metal wheels, its electric motors emitting a low whine. In a nearby trailer, students from Carnegie Mellon University huddle around a laptop to watch the world through the robot’s eyes. In the low-resolution grayscale images on the laptop’s screen, the rutted landscape looks a lot like the moon, which is the robot’s ultimate destination. Carnegie Mellon robotics professor William “Red” Whittaker and his students built Red Rover to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a competition designed to boost the role of private companies in space and inspire innovation in spaceflight technology. The winning prize is $20 million, which will go to the first nongovernment team that lands a robot on the moon, gets the robot to travel half a mile or so, and sends high-definition video back to Earth—all by the end of 2015. A second-place prize of $5 million, along with bonuses for other achievements such as reaching the site of an Apollo landing, brings the total purse to $30 million. Although 26 teams are competing, Whittaker’s team is a clear leader. His firm, Astrobotic Technology, was the first team to make a down payment on a rocket that will carry its spacecraft and rover to the moon. Whittaker has also proved himself to be a champion builder of autonomous vehicles that can navigate extreme environments. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.