Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Nanoscale Tractor Beam

A laser beam can push a nanoscale particle away with the pressure of its photons, but the particle may also be drawn toward the light when other particles are nearby--like the "tractor beams" of science fiction--according to a theory in the June Physical Review B. The theory also predicts that in the presence of light, two particles can attract or repel one another, and that a third particle can amplify the force between the first two by 100 times. The work suggests ways of manipulating particles that may be used to build nano-devices or nano-composite materials.

3Par deep storage picked for Kepler

New photos, encompassing nearly 100,000 stars each and shot by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, will be stored on the system, purchased by NASA's Ames Research Center for the project.

Every half hour, starting with Kepler's February 2009 planned launch, a new high-resolution photo will be transmitted via NASA's Deep Space Network to a 3Par storage server in Mountain View, where it will become available for study by the project's scientific team.

By comparing the brightness of stars dimmed at times by interceding planets in their orbit, NASA scientists expect to identify and learn about new and possibly habitable earth-like planets.

Barbara Morgan returns to Classroom

She waited twenty years for her ride, watched from the ground as back-up for Christa McAuliffe when Challenger exploded nine miles into its doomed mission in 1986, and now Barbara Morgan is retiring from NASA and is headed back to the classroom.
It is unlikely any of her present-day students will remember the explosion of the second Space Shuttle. Instead of appreciating how close Barbara Morgan came to becoming a flaming footnote to the history of NASA or how long she waited for her flight into space, it will be interesting if they will even think its a cool thing to have a "for real astronaut" as their science teacher.

Helium 3: Lunar Abundance and Distribution


Lunar and Planetary Science XXXIX (2008) 1049

ABSTRACT- Helium-3 (3He) is expected to be the cleanest fuel of choice for potential 21st century fusion reactors, because its reaction is efficient and produces low residual radioactivity. 3He is very rare on the Earth and much concentrated in the lunar regolith. It is possibly the most valuable resource on the Moon.

As we had known, the mineral ilmenite [FeTiO3] retains helium much better than other major lunar ma-terials. The more mature soils should contain high con-centration of 3He, because they have been exposed to the solar wind longer and contain greater amounts of fine-grained aggregates that absorb 3He. A map of implanted 3He abundance distribution on the Moon is constructed in this paper. The map is calibrated using a correlation between the 3He concentration and the TiO2 concentration and maturity index Is/FeO of lunar re-golith.

The distributions of the TiO2 concentration and the regolith maturity Is/FeO are derived from the multi-spectral lunar digital image model (DIM) of the Moon in five spectral ranges (415, 750, 900, 950, 1000 nm wavelengths), which was obtained.

NASA Raises Ares V Lift

By Frank Morring, Jr./Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

NASA planners have tentatively added an engine to its planned Ares V moon rocket, and increased the length of its shuttle-derived solid-rocket boosters to accommodate a larger hydrogen tank, as early work on lunar surface operations gets under way.

As now conceived, the Ares V will use six Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 engines to power its core stage, and twin five-and-a-half segment versions of the four-segment ATK shuttle solid boosters. Previous Ares V concepts had five RS-68s and twin five-segment boosters that basically matched the first stage of its Ares I crew launch vehicle.

That configuration was "a couple of tons short" of the throw weight needed to get the planned Altair lunar lander and an Orion crew exploration vehicle to the moon, so the agency's exploration launch vehicles office at Marshall Space Flight Center has been considering higher-powered options.

Exploration managers settled on the upgrade configuration during a three-day Lunar Capability Concept Review (LCCR) just concluded that sought to meld inputs on lunar exploration goals from the 14 other nations working with NASA on a "global exploration strategy."

"We confirmed that Constellation's conceptual designs for both Ares V and Altair will enable us to land astronauts and cargo anywhere on the moon and to build an outpost supporting widespread exploration of the lunar surface," said Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley. "This extensive review proves we are ready for the next phase: taking these concepts and moving forward to establish mature requirements."

If authorized by senior NASA management later this year, the Phase A work coming up next will define requirements for the vehicles and other elements needed to push human flight operations beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit to an outpost, probably at one of the lunar poles. It will culminate in a systems requirements review tentatively set for 2010.

As currently conceived, the Ares V will be able to deliver more than 156,600 pounds to the moon, according to NASA. With its size limited by the height of the doors in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, it will stand some 381 feet tall in the current concept. The J-2X engine in development to power the Ares I upper stage will also power the Ares V upper stage - known as the Earth Departure Stage - that will drive the Altair and a four-seat Orion to lunar orbit.

Although the extra half-segment on the solid-rocket boosters will add some lift to the Ares V, its main contribution will be to raise the structural pass-through that holds the solid boosters to the core stage. That, in turn, will allow a larger liquid hydrogen tank to fit under the pass-through to keep the RS-68B engines burning longer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Toxicological effects of moon dust

A Flash video presentation from the SETI Institute featuring lunar dust toxicity researchers Jon Rask and Erin Tranfield.

Rask and Tranfield demonstrate the unique nature of lunar dust and the shortfalls of stimulants in determining almost unavoidable health effects on human beings. The researchers also discuss the work underway at NASA's Lunar Airborne Dust Toxicity Advisory Group (LADTAG) and also confirm the unfortunate contamination of lunar samples collected during the Apollo Era.

"During the Apollo era, lunar regolith was commonly brought into the lunar module via dirty spacesuits and as a result, the cabin surfaces and the cabin atmosphere became contaminated. Based on detailed technical debriefs of the Apollo astronauts, it was apparent during the missions that respiratory effects, skin effects and potential ocular effects of lunar dust needed to be evaluated. Although these areas of concern were recognized, short mission duration and rapid mission succession prevented a detailed analysis of the medical problems associated with lunar dust. Erin and John will report on their investigations into the biological effects of lunar dust to understand potential skin effects, inhalation toxicity, and ocular effects that may result from long duration human habitation of the Moon."
View the Lecture HERE.

Roll-over, stop snoring, for Science

The Lunar Science Institute, NASA's new Lunar Science collaboration modeled after the popular Astrobiology Institute was first out the gate in rewarding grant monies, last year, to a bunch of guys who intend on spending all day in bed. Sounds like quite a gig, that is until you actually try to stay in bed all day.

Was this what Senator Barack H. Obama (D-IL) was referring to when he said NASA didn't
"inspire and excite" Americans any longer?

The Galveston County Daily News spelled out the human interest side of the equation on June 21, in Researchers looking at effects of space travel.

Details on your tax dollars at work can be found when inquiring about awarded solicitations for research funding from the LSI website. The program is overseen by the Biomedical Research and Countermeasures Program within NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research. Got all that? To be jointly funded by three of the Central Office bureaucracies, by NASA, ESA & CNES, the International Long-term Bed Rest Study, underway since 2003, must be worth the costs, which , after all, can't be very much.

I wouldn't think so, either.

Sweet dreams.

Congress sets sights on moon, wants to boost NASA funding

WASHINGTON — Congress gave NASA another boost Tuesday when a U.S. Senate committee recommended a $2.6billion increase in the space agency's budget next year to accelerate its plans to return astronauts to the moon.

The $20.2billion mirrors the amount included in a similar bill that passed the U.S. House 409 to 15 last week. Both measures also require that NASA add another shuttle flight to deliver a physics experiment to the international space station.

Keeping the two versions alike makes it easier to get a NASA bill through Congress. Space supporters want to send a bill to President Bush — who opposes the House bill because it costs too much — before the November election, in part to send a message to the next president.

"Our enemy right now is time," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who said he expects the full Senate to vote on the bill next month. Because there is little variation in the two bills, finding a compromise between the House and Senate versions should not be too difficult.

Urges global help

Each version encourages more climate research and pushes NASA to use the international space station — now slated for retirement in 2016 — until at least 2020. Each also encourages NASA to seek international participation in space exploration.

The one major difference is a Senate provision that would prohibit NASA Administrator Michael Griffin from doing anything to "preclude the continued safe and effective flight of the space shuttle orbiter after fiscal year 2010."

That's when NASA intends to retire the space shuttle to free up money for its replacement, the Constellation program, which aims to send American astronauts to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars. Griffin has insisted that NASA does not have enough money to continue flying the aging shuttle and also develop Constellation for a first planned launch in 2015.

In response, the Senate language expressly prohibits using Constellation funding to preserve the shuttle. But the bill also requires NASA to study what it would take to "continue space shuttle flight operations" between 2011 and 2015.

Shuttle safeguard

A Senate staff member, who asked not to be named so as to speak candidly, said the shuttle provisions were included as a safeguard in case plans to use Russian Soyuz spacecraft or still-untested commercial rockets to reach the space station fall through.

"We don't think that it's a decision that should be made in the near term that could affect our $100billion investment [into the space station]," said the staff member.

Nelson said no one "is seriously thinking about flying the space shuttle beyond 2010." A Democratic staff member said the language was intended to ensure that NASA could fly an additional shuttle mission in 2011 if necessary.

NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said the agency doesn't comment on pending legislation.

Even if the House and Senate can reach a consensus, the NASA bill faces the problem of funding. Though both bills authorize $20.2billion, the White House has requested only $17.6billion, and congressional appropriators have budgeted $17.8billion.
Read more HERE.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jules Verne boosts ISS to 345 Kilometers

Toulouse - Prototype Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne continues to impress ESA designers and ground controllers.

During a seven minute burn, Friday, the ESA's ATV performed a flawless second boost manuver since docking on the Russian Zvezda module in March, raising the ISS complex 7 kilometers to 345 kilometers.

The 300 metric ton International Space Station loses ~300 feet in altitude from atmospheric drag each day, and must recieve a regular boost to maintain orbital velocity, either from a visiting Space Shuttle, Progress or the nominally functional boosters, with limited fuel, on Zvezda. Now the increasingly real-world proven capabilities of ESA has been demonstrated once again in a banner year marked by repeated successful launches of its Arianne V heavy-lift from Kourou.

"We should have at least one more reboost in July and two in August," said Hervé Côme, ESA's ATV Mission Director at the ATV Control Centre.

The Jules Verne is scheduled to retire from ISS in September, departing with 6.5 metric tonnes of debris and be destroyed on re-entry over the South Pacific. But the better than hoped for performance of the prototype has encouraged boldness in the ESA to transform the ATV into a manned spacecraft, in direct competition with NASA-contractor SpaceX and the Commercial Orbital Transfer System under development in the United States.

Read more HERE.

Friday, June 20, 2008

John Lindsay 1941-2008

From Dr. Clive R. Neal, a message from Steve Mackwell
Director of the Lunar & Planetary Institute

June 20 - Houston: It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the passing of John F. Lindsay at the age of 67. John, who was a visiting scientist on the staff of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, died early this morning after a valiant battle against cancer.

John's education was in soft-rock geology with a solid background in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and statistics, earning his B.Sc. (with Honors) and M.Sc. degrees from the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia, and his Ph.D. in geology from Ohio State University in 1968. One of the original scientists at the Institute in the early 1970s, John's professional background also included positions as Research Scientist at the Marine Science Institute of the University of Texas; Program Manager at Exxon Production Research; Adjunct Professor at Oxford University, and NRC Senior Research Associate at the Astrobiology Institute at NASA Johnson Space Center, where John worked closely with David McKay and his group.

Much of John's recent work involved research into the origins of life, especially around ancient and modern hydrothermal systems as universal analogs for planetary environments. John's work suggested that the assumption that life on Earth developed early, and that all record of the prebiotic-biotic boundary may have been lost, may be incorrect. John came to the conclusion that the early Archean record on Earth provides many parallels with early Mars and is likely to provide a good analog to help plan for the search for life beyond Earth. In the past year, John had worked on lunar dust hazards and mitigation, and had just finished a paper on Archaen concretions and their implications for life. Unfinished projects include a textbook in astrobiology and a major paper on the Warrawoona group of Australia, which includes the oldest sedimentary rocks on Earth.

John received many awards and honors during his career, including the NASA Achievement Award for Work in the Apollo Lunar Program, the U.S. Polar Medal for Antarctic Service, and the Australian Institute of Cartographers award for cartographic excellence.

While John will be remembered for his scientific contributions, he will most fondly be remembered for his gentle and kind personality. With never a cross word, and always a smile and a warm greeting for everyone he ran across, John's passing will leave a tremendous hole in the hearts of his friends and colleagues.

To his son, Matthew, and other family members and friends, we extend our deepest sympathy. We'll miss you, John!
Department of Civil Engineering & Geological Sciences
156 Fitzpatrick Hall
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States
1 (574) 631-8328
Fax: 1 (574) 631-9236

Challenges Ahead for New Space Investors

Tariq Malik Senior Editor Thu Jun 19, 7:03 PM ET
NEW YORK — New startups hoping to make their mark on the space industry still face high entry barriers just to cover their initial costs, investors said Wednesday.

The high cost and risks associated with new commercial ventures, as well as the bureaucratic government hoops they have to jump through, provide substantial barriers for nascent companies aiming for space, experts said during the 2008 Space Business Forum here presented by the Space Foundation, a non-profit advocacy organization.

According to the foundation's Space Report 2008, the space industry generated about $251 billion in revenue worldwide in 2007, an 11 percent increase from $225 billion in 2006. About 69 percent of that 2007 revenue was the result of commercial activity, according to the report.

"If anything, the market is a little bit hesitant," said Thomas Watts, managing director for equity research for the investment firm Cowen & Company, LLC. While investors might be open to established private firms going public today, new companies may not be so lucky. "Investors are open to it, but at the same time, I think there's a wait and see attitude to new ventures," he said.

High operations costs remain a major barrier, investors said. That is particularly true at the start when major investment in basic launch or spacecraft development infrastructure is required before returns can be seen.

"There's some parts of the business, on the operations side, where you're talking about significant investments of capital up front," said Hugh Evans, a partner with Veritas Capital, an investment firm, adding that there will always be interest in affordable launch providers. "Some of the trends we find attractive are obviously the declining costs of being able to launch satellites."

Newt Gingrich, chairman of the Gingrich Group and a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the bureaucratic red tape inherent in approving space assets for flight — particularly at NASA — is a major obstacle for newcomers to space industry.

"We need a fundamental, real change in how we're approaching space," Gingrich said. "We need a change that allows Americans to participate, not just bureaucrats."

Gingrich said the risk-adverse focus of NASA and space-oriented government offices has stymied progress in both commercial and government-sponsored exploration efforts.

"We have adopted an insane model of being so risk averse that we spend so much time and money on avoiding error that we avoid achievement," Gingrich said, noting that if the country today tolerated risk as well as it did in the first 25 years of aviation, "we would have a colony on Mars by now."

Gingrich said tax-free cash prizes for major accomplishments, like a $1 billion purse for the ability to repeatedly launch and land a recoverable orbital spacecraft, could do wonders for spurring private innovation. If the prizes are set to be budgeted only in the year they are won, rather than set aside for years until a winner comes forward, then it might be more palatable for lawmakers, he added.

"I am passionately committed to prizes," Gingrich said. "The great power of prizes is simple; they allow anybody anywhere who's competent to try and solve a problem."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Analex is awarded ELV contract

As in 2005, Analex of Fairfax, Virginia, in the Washington DC suburbs, has awarded launch services contract extensions from NASA. Analex is hiring.

NASA News Release. June 16, 2008 -NASA has awarded Analex Corporation of Fairfax, Va., an option for the Expendable Launch Vehicles Integrated Support, or ELVIS, contract.

This second option period award is a hybrid performance-based, cost-plus-award-fee, fixed-price-award-fee, and fixed-price indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. It extends ELVIS through Sept. 30, 2011. The award has a potential value of approximately $90 million.

Analex Corporation currently is performing work under the contract's first option period, a three-year option that ends Sept. 30, 2008. The potential contract period, if all options are exercised, is nine years, three months, with a total approximate value of $258 million.

The contract provides integrated support services in the areas of business and administration, safety and mission assurance, engineering, and technical, facility, and launch operations. Launch vehicles include the Atlas, Delta, Pegasus, Taurus, and Falcon rockets. The contract specifically provides engineering services and analyses, communications, telemetry, special studies, and technical services for ground and flight expendable launch vehicle systems and payloads.

Services will be provided at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and other launch sites and NASA resident offices.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

ESA thinks X-Prize teams are Privateers

Crater expectations: privateers chase lunar prize

Nearly four decades after humans first set foot on the Moon, our astronomical neighbour is still exerting a powerful attraction for would-be explorers. Several private teams of scientists have already started working to land the first ever commercially-funded robot on the surface, in a race worth millions in prize-money to the winners. EuroNews met these teams.
More HERE.

Quantum Entanglement for Space Experiments News Service
Colin Barras

The International Space Station could soon be relaying messages secured using quantum entanglement, if a proposed experiment is accepted by the European Space Agency later this year.

If the experiment was successful it would be a step towards unbeatably secure satellite communications between any two points on earth.

One form of quantum cryptography exploits the way particles like photons can become "entangled", into a state where any change to the properties of one affects the other, even across great distances. Einstein famously described it as "spooky action at a distance."

When entangled photons are used to communicate a secret pass-phrase, monitoring their quantum partners makes it possible to know instantly if someone has tried to intercept the message.

Distance record

The current distance record for transmitting entangled photons stands at 144 kilometres, between telescopes in the Canary Islands and Tenerife.

The team that set that record, led by Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna in Austria, now hopes to smash that figure by transmitting keys over thousands of kilometres using the International Space Station to carry the source of the quantum signals.

Read more HERE.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brick and Glass from Lunar Regolith

The road ahead for the Lunar Pioneer is already a carefully ordered and logical one. It will be a while longer before boots return to the ground, if NASA has its way. Reading the commissioned studies and tight budgets, however, shows us what may be a necessary discipline.

And, in the long run, proving possible what was once science fiction is also necessary if the tough road toward permanent settlement is going to be tolerable.
Among those things long hoped for has been the grinding of lenses from the Moon itself. Now, in one week, NASA has shown both glass and sheltering bricks can be made from lunar regolith.

Of course, these popular developments coming, as they do, as an ambivalent Congress deliberates a larger than expected budget is not by chance. But, however good fortune has proven it, what many of us have long known could and should be done on the Moon is manifest, and we're glad.

It is a hint, a momentary glimpse of a marvelous future astronomy that will make the benighted Hubble as quaint as Hale.

Read more HERE.

More-Powerful Fuel Cells

Methanol fuel cells have the potential to replace batteries as a lightweight power source for portable electronic devices. But fuel-cell materials are expensive, and fuel cells that consume methanol are inefficient. In particular, the membranes used in methanol fuel cells are expensive and waste fuel. Now researchers at MIT have developed a cheap membrane material that increases the power output of methanol fuel cells by 50 percent.

The energy density of a methanol fuel cell "compares to the best high-energy-density batteries," says Robert Savinell, a chemical engineer at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, who was not involved in the research. And because they weigh less than batteries, methanol fuel cells are a promising power source for portable electronics. For the military, tanks of methanol for refilling fuel cells would be lighter than extra batteries that would have to be carried on long missions. The energy density of methanol fuel cells could also be an advantage in portable consumer electronic devices such as laptops and iPods. But commercialization of methanol fuel cells has been limited because of their price: they require a thick internal membrane made of an expensive polymer. And even with this expensive material, they use fuel inefficiently.

To overcome these limitations, Paula Hammond, a chemical engineer at MIT, has made a fuel-cell membrane out of layers of polymers whose electrochemical properties can be precisely tuned to prevent fuel waste. The work is described in a recent issue of Advanced Materials. Indeed, says Savinell, Hammond has solved a problem that chemists have been trying to overcome for years.
Read more HERE.
MIT Technology Review

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Andrei Kislyakov: Russia learns from NASA?

RIA Novosti
MOSCOW --This summer will prove crucial for the Russian space program. First of all, the U.S. Congress will decide whether to buy Soyuz spacecraft for flying crews to the International Space Station.

In early June, NASA and Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) delegations negotiated in the United States. However, the U.S. decision will be far more important for Moscow than for the Americans.

NASA will lack manned spacecraft for reaching the ISS after U.S. space shuttles are grounded in 2010, pending the introduction of a new transport system in 2013.

But it would be an exaggeration to say that top NASA managers are seriously worried about this. In August 2006, President Bush said interplanetary missions were becoming the main aspect of the U.S. space program. Washington, which has already spent $100 billion on the ISS project, continues to support it only through sheer inertia.

However, the Russian space program revolves almost completely around the ISS. According to Vitaly Lopota, CEO of the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, the project annually receives $600 million, or 50 percent of the national space budget.

Russian analysts believe that the ISS project requires at least $1.2 billion a year until 2015. This is why Moscow has to sign the Soyuz contract with the United States, no matter what.

The ISS project leaves a lot to be desired. The station's Russian segment has not been completed: only three out of 10 modules are in service today. Due to acute power shortages, the modules operate below their ability. Moreover, the ISS telecommunications network, the pillar of any space mission, is not very good. Much has been said about the ISS's inadequate scientific program. Certainly, ISS experiments have not yet improved living standards on Earth.

Paradoxically, the ineffective ISS probably saved the Russian space program in the "cash-strapped" 1990s, when the country's space industry managed to stay afloat by building manned Soyuz spacecraft and Progress automatic cargo craft.

Nevertheless, virtually all of the Russian space program's state funding is spent on manned missions.

On June 4, Yury Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the country was rapidly losing its leadership in the sphere of scientific space projects, and that it had orbited only two space probes after the abortive launch of the Mars-96 spacecraft in 1996.

"Many projects are being postponed each year, and foreign partners are withdrawing from them. The United States invested $100 million into the absolutely unique Radioastron project but eventually decided to call it quits because Moscow repeatedly put off the launch for the lack of funding. Failure to abide by project deadlines is a major problem," Osipov said.

Apart from international scientific programs, Russia lacks its own automatic probes. Weather-satellite and remote-sensing satellite projects are still in their early stages.

In an article published on the official Roscosmos site on June 4, Lopota said 95 percent of the U.S. space budget was being spent on near-Earth projects, and that long-range missions still received only 3 percent to 5 percent.

In effect, President Bush's politically motivated statements differ completely from U.S. economic requirements.

Despite appearances, NASA, which receives 14-fold greater state funding than Roscosmos, is still in no hurry to finance manned and interplanetary missions, preferring to implement cost-effective projects instead. Consequently, we could learn something from the experience of our U.S. partner.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Triangle team racing to moon

Raleigh News & Observer
Sunday, June 2, 2008

Tim Simmons
Staff Writer

In the category of audacious goals, a team of Triangle business leaders and N.C. State University faculty members has entered a worldwide contest to launch the first private rocket to the moon.

Houston, you have competition.

Sponsored by Google and the X Prize Foundation of California, the contest offers $30 million in prize money to teams that can meet the following challenge:

* Land an unmanned rover on the lunar surface.
* Travel at least 500 meters.
* Transmit video back to Earth.

But ultimately, this contest is about making the moon a permanent celestial outpost.

"The space race is on again," said Dick Dell Sr., director of Raleigh-based Advanced Vehicle Research Center and a key member of the moon launch team. "There is going to be a huge rush toward commercialization this time."

Almost four decades after man first landed on the moon, some will no doubt question the need for such a contest.

But the rules of the game are different this time. The X Prize Foundation, which offers huge sums of money to spur innovation in a variety of fields, envisions a day when large solar panels built on the moon are used to power entire cities on Earth.

It sees the moon as an extension of our reach, a launchpad for further exploration, a place where humans keep a permanent presence.

But first, you need to get there without government help.

Earth comes first

Dell was involved in supporting another futuristic endeavor -- building cars that compete in driverless races -- when he learned of the lunar competition.

The leader of the Grand Challenge driving team, Grayson Randall of Insight Technologies in Morrisville, was interested.

So was Andre Mazzoleni, a professor at NCSU who teaches orbital mechanics and space system design. William Edmonson, who teaches electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, also wanted in. So did others.

By late 2007, TeamSTELLAR filed its application to launch a rocket to the moon. Its entry was accepted May 23, making it one of 14 teams cleared to compete.

Like Team Stellar, some of the groups have universities as partners.

The group known as Astrobotic Technology, for example, is a combined effort led by Carnegie Mellon University, The University of Arizona and Raytheon, a defense company.

But many of the teams are coalitions of private firms that want to pioneer private space travel. To underscore that point, 90 percent of a team's money must come from private sources, a rule intended to drive cost efficiencies.

The rules allow teams to hire a private launch company to take them into Earth orbit -- and there are many now, thanks to the needs of weather satellites and Global Positioning System satellites and a host of Earth-imaging products.

But it will take another set of rockets to launch from Earth orbit to lunar orbit, and still another set of rockets to drop out of the lunar orbit and land a rover.

Travel, video and just creating a craft that can survive extreme lunar climates -- temperatures can swing 450 degrees in a day -- keep the challenges coming.

But of all the tasks in front of Team Stellar, it is not the science that most worries Randall.

"We understand the technology," Randall said. "The first question is, where are we going to get the money we need?"

Investment and return

The answer brings the contest back to its entrepreneurial roots.

Any team that launches a rocket will spend far more than the $20 million set aside for the first-place winner. Dell predicts a final tab of $50 million to $100 million for the Team Stellar design. Raising that kind of money will depend on old-school marketing.

Small teams of NCSU students will handle some parts of the project, but the team still has holes to fill that will require private companies with specific technical expertise.Those companies could be asked to provide money as well as a specific skill, Dell said.

Others will be asked to sponsor the launch in return for publicity.

And potential investors will be told that $1 million plowed into the first private moon launch could return tens of millions.

Team Stellar members are convinced of that, pointing to the Ansari X Prize competition as proof.
In 2004, aerospace designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen won $10 million by becoming the first private group to carry three people into a low-space orbit.

Allen spent far more than $10 million, but within months the team signed a multimillion-dollar contract with a space tourism company.

Of course, that meant 25 other teams in the race got no immediate payback. And that's what will happen in the lunar competition for those who flop.

But space travel in general will push forward at a fraction of what it would cost a government agency -- a big goal of the contest.

Experiments and prizes

The idea of reaching air and space travel milestones with the lure of a prize is hardly new.

The idea was fairly common in the early 1900s, echoing a theme explored by author Jules Verne when the fictional Phileas Fogg bet he could travel around the world in 80 days.

When Charles Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927, he was spurred on by a $25,000 prize offered by French businessman Raymond Ortieg.

His efforts and others caused a huge increase in air travel that is seen as the catalyst for today's airline industry.

Aviation experts aren't sure what will happen once the first private moon launch succeeds.
But they are sure it will change the calculus of space travel.

The United States and other countries plan to return to the moon, but that could be more than a decade from now.

The deadline for the private competition is 2012. Those who compete will be first in line when the government needs subcontractors for its efforts.

"The only thing that has been profitable in space so far is some transportation and communications," said Bob Dickman, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Reston, Va.

"What this prize will do is send a message that NASA is not the only way to reach the moon," Dickman added. "Who knows where that will lead us?"

NCSU's Mazzoleni looks backward to answer the same question.

"When European explorers set out for the Americas, did they know what they would find?" he asked. "Was it important that they try?"

A Growing Scam:

People Getting Rich Selling Deeds To Lunar Real Estate

One man says he has made $10 million selling Lunar real estate. However, in a new article in The Journal of Air Law and Commerce, co-authors Alan Wasser and Doug Jobes explain why these deeds are completely invalid. The article also explains why the sale of REAL deeds - based on a private settlement of the moon - would pay for the huge cost of getting into space.
Read more HERE.