The race to the moon we almost forgot about

Google Lunar X PRIZE contest deadline just three years away

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It's easy to forget, what with the original announcement coming more than five years ago, that there's a new moon race on.

But there is! And it's heading down the home stretch, as Popular Mechanics helpfully reminds us in this article handicapping the contenders vying to be the first to soft-land "a privately funded unmanned spacecraft" on our lunar neighbor.

At stake is a total of $30 million in Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) money and the opportunity to establish a stronghold on the moon, from which to eventually launch an attack on the weak, spineless Earthlings.

But that second part comes later. The first order of business is beating the deadline of December 31, 2015, for safely landing an unmanned vehicle (or robot) on the moon and "have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth."

The competition is organized by X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Google. There are 25 teams from around the world signed on to "Moon 2.0," as GLXP calls it. And if you're thinking, "Hey, there's three more years to go, let's whip together a prototype, get our taste of some prize money, and then conquer Earth," well, it's too late. Team registrations closed on December 31, 2010.

Here's a page with all 25 teams. Among them are Odyssey Moon, Omega Envoy, Euroluna and Earth Must Be Destroyed.

But the ones that really matter, according to Popular Mechanics, are Moon Express, Astrobotic Technology, and Barcelona Moon Team. This is because they are the only teams which claim to have made launch arrangements, historically an important prerequisite for landing a vehicle on the moon.

The big winner gets $20 million, with the runner-up winning $5 million. Prizes of $1 million each will be awarded for:

* Operating at night

* Traveling more than 5 kilometers over the lunar surface

* Detecting water

* Landing near an Apollo site or other lunar sites of interest (such as landing/crash sites of man-made space hardware)

* Demonstrating the greatest attempts to promote diversity in the field of space exploration

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