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I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
December 14, 2007 -- Revolution, Not Evolution
Status: [CLOSED]

You just gave me this great feeling of daring to follow dreams and even when it is verging on the naive. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead Robert!

Dirk Stevens | Dec 14, 2007 | 11:48AM

"...there is a business case for investment here, somewhere, if only you squint just right."
I'd be interested in hearing more on potential businesses related to space exploration. Other than novelty (e.g. corporate logos on spacecraft and billionaire tourism), what money can be made?

Jeff | Dec 14, 2007 | 11:51AM

Google's interest is no so altruistic... I foresee the ultimate banner ad on our lunar landscape. They are after all, the kings of advertising.

D. B. | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:06PM

Asteroid Mining. There is more money (in heavy metals) swinging by our planet every few months on Asteroids than all of the metal deposits on Earth. If you can get robot miners up there cheaply and bring those elements back, you'll make Bill Gates look like a Hillbilly.

Brandon | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:11PM

The moon shot is great and all that, but how much longer will we have to wait for season 2 of NerdTV? You've been teasing us on the sidebar for months and months about a "super-secret" guest. Didn't your mother teach you to finish one job before starting another?

Darryl | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:21PM

Isn't the prize $30 million?

The headline from press release on the X-Prize website says, "$30 Million Purse to be Awarded to Winners."

Rob | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:35PM

Dreams can come true, I will look forward to seeing you there! Check the Astronomy picture of the day, today December 14. Is that an X-Prize rover I see? Merry Christmas!

JohnC | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:44PM

I would think that if you paid for a trip to the Space Station (via Russians), then that would cover a good percentage of the gravity well of Earth - the big bugaloo in any moon project.

If you also paid to take along your moon lander etc, you could probably make it happen.

William Donelson | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:45PM

I agree with Daryl, when is the next Nerd TV season coming up.

I am based in the UK and have to say admire the US' space program (even though as you point out it seems to be at a crawl at the moment) and am constantly amazed at how little the US citizen seems to think about the guys and gals at NASA who put life and limb on the line to push the boundaries.

It is a very sobering site to see the roll of honour at Cape Canaveral listing the brave souls who gave their lives to push what we know about space. Their sacrifice deserves the committment of future generations to continue the work they started, as there will come a time when we MUST leave this planet and head out to colonise space and it might come sooner than expected if we are threatened by an alien race or a giant Earth killing asteroid that we can't deflect!!

Siv | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:45PM

Are you taking smaller than $100K investments?


Andrew | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:46PM

I would think that if you paid for a trip to the Space Station (via Russians), then that would cover a good percentage of the gravity well of Earth - the big bugaloo in any moon project.

If you also paid to take along your moon lander etc, you could probably make it happen.

A lander with bouncy-baloons etc etc.

William Donelson | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:47PM

The *total* of the prizes is $30 million. The grand prize is $20 million


"PRIZES: The total purse of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is $30 million (USD).
• GRAND PRIZE: A $20 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the team that can soft land a craft on the Moon that roams for at least 500 meters and transmits a Mooncast back to Earth. The Grand Prize is $20M until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15M until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation
• SECOND PRIZE: A $5 million Second Prize will be offered as well, providing an extra incentive for teams to continue to compete, and increasing the possibility that multiple teams will succeed. Second place will be available until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation
• BONUSES: An additional $5 million in bonus prizes can be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to Earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE website."

Earle | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:53PM

A dad and his kid...why not leverage that too to help if nothing else to publicize Team Cringely & space???

In this day and age of "hey start a web page" I offer the following idea: Team Cringely, buy in for your kid for Xmas for $10 (or whatever)! Why should only kids with rich dads get to play???

Obvious extras, well, since it's Google...advertising on the site too (Google Uber Alles)...send an update to every kids email address every month; every kid has several these days! Have elementary school science classes hook into it somehow! Get lists of model rocket enthusiasts club and let them know: the little guy is going to the moon! but this time we're gonna really do it the American way and make money! (no more Commies to beat to the moon anymore)

If nothing else, you'll create a lot MORE excitement for a lot of kids (and maybe a few dads as well)...just like when we were all kids in the 60s!

Michael Gardner | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:53PM

How about providing a means for smaller donations? I imagine there may be thousands of us willing to kick in some money that would quickly add up to real money.

You could micro engrave our names on the side of the rover as recognition. :)

Tom | Dec 14, 2007 | 12:59PM

Are you taking smaller than $100K investments?


Andrew | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:09PM

A rover named *Bob*?

Gilmoure | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:10PM

A rover named *Bob*?

Also, where's the Paypal/Google Checkout button for little guy donations? Would be glad to tax myself for something cool!

Gilmoure | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:10PM

Way to go Robert. Sounds like you are on the right track and have all the confidence, and team talent, to pull this off. Like Red Green says, "Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together."


Gary | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:16PM

Bob, as a few others have suggested, I'll toss in some loose cash as well. I can't give you thousands but I'm not exactly looking to share in the price money either. If you do win, I'll simply be happy knowing I was able to help in some way. Put up a PayPal 'Donations' link on your website. And I really like the comments of "dad's with their kids" wanting to help if they can. Let the kids of this nation share in the dream of landing something on the moon.

Dialup Man | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:16PM

As several stated, some way for smaller donations, just to be listed on some contributors page, or whatever. Heck, maybe you could even spin off a second separate team with the funds if you have more rocket scientists than 1 team can use.

Norman Fleming | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:18PM

Haven't read thru the comments, so this may be redundant. The reason there hasn't been much change in the way we go to space is physics: chemical rockets are the only means of propulson available. Until that changes (and Capt. Kirk's warp drive won't happen), space is a limited fantasy. And a grand waste of money.

And then there's the matter of the laws of thermodynamics and those of relativity (special and general). There's nothing of interest, beyond curiosity, close enough to get to and back.

robert | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:23PM

May Team Cringely leave all the others in the sparkly lunar dust.

That said, I have to differ with the assertion that "the entire idea of going to space -- at least for America -- is near death." You could go as far as to say that the robotic side of space exploration is enjoying a golden age.

I won't defend everything NASA does, but in the past few years they have landed on an asteroid, intentionally collided with a comet, put a probe on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan, and there are four, count 'em four, active American missions at Mars right now with another on the way. Europe, China and Japan all have active robotic probes in space right now as well.

You can track these missions at NASA's top-notch JPL site, or (shameless plug coming) at my non-commercial site:

Bill | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:23PM

I too would be happy to add some small amount of money for your efforts without any return needed. And, if you offered bumper stickers or bracelets, I might even buy that and show my support. Anything to bring some positive change to this tired race.

btw. Don't forget Burt Rutan - he has been arguing for exactly the same changes in the American space program for years.

Team_fan | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:25PM

Bob - how will you split the pot with your investors when you win? Disclosure is king.

How can I contribute?

Edward | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:26PM

Well, this is good news - sort of. Pouring more money into repeating the same old mistakes, but with private capital instead of NASA.

I suggest if you want fresh new ideas, you look back 43 years to the Orion Project. Their moto, in case you do not know, was "Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970". "…the first time in modern history that a major expansion of human technology has been suppressed for political reasons." - Freeman Dyson.

This new space community needs to think bigger than a Lunar Rover - that may be a so-called Start, but really it's a ho-hummer to most people here in the US and abroad.

The things which characterized the old NASA's lunar space program - at least it's public face - were Hope and Wonder. Where ever I travelled in the world in those days, those two things characterized people's reactions - even a couple of KGB guys in an East/West German border town - after enough snoose - freely admitted that this one aspect of the US's program they could not match - yet.. :)

The technolgy exist to do far better, only the will is lacking.

Chris | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:26PM

I agree - where's the PayPal donation link?

Also - Try Omega Watches - they were the first watch on the Moon years ago and might be worth the contact to see if they can support in a small way - LIke maybe making you an Omega Ambassador or donating a couple of watches to eBay-off to raise funds!

Stuart Ciske | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:28PM

What's the carbon footprint going to be on this? Better be sure to hold some funds back for that carbon charge.

Kurt | Dec 14, 2007 | 1:53PM

Outstanding! I am glad to see you are bringing the spirit of the free market along for the ride.

I hope that when you win the prize money, that the prize money will be used for other space related ventures.

This is our legacy, this is what I hope the human race will look back at fondly in their history texts. Brave men and women, you are writing our future history, make us proud!

Venomous Pinecone | Dec 14, 2007 | 2:10PM

Does this have anything to do with what you're talking about?

The competition sounds pretty cool. Good for you for making a go of it!

Frank | Dec 14, 2007 | 2:35PM


Supposedly I am an expert on low tech. Supposedly I am expert in certain types of aviation. Part of my research & design group built a super low tech/low weight working roving vehicle 36 years ago (no less).

If you need me (and my team) on your team - just say so. One of the team is likely one of the most capable designers on this planet. [It always good to hang out with people smater than me ;) ]

All the best anyway.

Harry | Dec 14, 2007 | 2:49PM

Bob is absolutely right in his analysis. NASA has for a long time ceased being interested in actually accomplishing anything in space, and devolved into another government bureaucracy that seeks primarily its own self-sustenance. The Shuttle fiascos, the Martian rover crashes due to forgetting to convert metric to British measurements, and the lack of a real mission for the International Space Station all confirm this. What problem has NASA solved in the last 25 years? There is something to be said for scarcity. It forces creative thinking, and that is what Bob has imposed on his team. I'm proud to be their chaplain and look forward to seeing a picture back from the moon with a guy in a fedora and trenchcoat!

Michael | Dec 14, 2007 | 3:14PM

Bravo. As a high school student in the early 50's I dreamed of space flight and man's conquering the problems. I wrote a paper in 1953 detailing the first space station. My teacher (a technolgy illiterate) told me she didn't know whether to give me an A for creativity or an F for stupidity. She finally gave me the A. A decade later "2001, A space odessy showed that if the plan was stupid then a lot of other people were also.

Now I'm over 70 and still an enthusiast about space. I literally cried when the moon program was shut down in '73. I felt like Icarus who had flown too close to the sun and it had melted the wax holding his wings together.

I pray that I'm still around to see this contest completed successfully and man once again rushing about the solar system sucking up knowledge like a giant vaccumm cleaner.

Matt | Dec 14, 2007 | 3:28PM

Sounds a little like "Plane Crazy" all over again Bob. I wish you the best of luck however.

tzone | Dec 14, 2007 | 3:58PM

Since you invoked the metaphor of evolution, its worth pointing out that while Darwinism is extremely effective, it works by discarding so much that is spend, if you're counting in species or dollars.

It reminded me of Freeman Dyson's chapter in Imagined Worlds, reviewing aircraft development in terms of Darwinism: "almost all varieties of the airplane failed... [but] because of the rigorous selection, the few surviving [designs] are astonishingly reliable, economical, and safe."

Similarly, it's hard to see how a waste of billions in pursuit of millions will ultimately hurt space exploration; the surviving birds should be much better than NASA dinosaurs.

Guy Mac | Dec 14, 2007 | 4:11PM

There may be other nations doing great work in space, I simply don't know.

and super villians no doubt.

Nikc | Dec 14, 2007 | 4:21PM

Bob why don't you setup a site for micro-investments in your space project? Something like a A $100,000 may not be much money for some, but it's a fortune for me. However I would like to contribute. Facilitating micro-investing in this project would allow a lot more people to participate.

Francis Chow | Dec 14, 2007 | 4:23PM

I have always had dreams of being in space and space travel and I've been alive for 22 years and there really haven't been any big breakthroughs in my life. Our president in the early 60's said he wanted to be on the moon before the end of the decade. in 69, we had done it. Now we just continue to do things on Earth, destroying it. Space is an amazing place with so much unknown. I am a 22 year old MIS major in the middle of Kansas. Space travel is one of those things that I am not able to get into due to my lack of money and rocket science. I know fresh views of age old problems are sometimes much needed. I dream of the day I'll be able to join a team and help in some way, weather it's an idea man, or a problem solver. Sometimes engineers get stuck in ruts on solving problems and need an idea of someone that doesn't know any of the "standards" or "the way it's always been done". Good luck on landing on the moon, I hope one day that I am able to walk there in my future.

Scott | Dec 14, 2007 | 4:34PM

Great column. Two comments: from a propulsion perspective, the reason things haven't changed much is because the chemistry can't get any better. Now if NERVA wasn't tied up in Cold War politics, getting to escape velocity with huge payloads would be routine today. But the atmospheric nuke test ban treaty stands in the way.

Second: Implicit in your argument is the other problem with 'contests' like these. If beating the Russians to the moon hadn't been about Kennedy's challenge, we probably would have used re-useable lifting body technology to fly there and back from the ground. And that's really where we need to be. With the fly by wire systems, the materials science, the lifting body aerodynamics and nuclear based propulsion, we've had the technologies to take off from SFO, fly to the moon and return. We just don't have anyone with the vision or the money to link it all together to make it work!

Bil | Dec 14, 2007 | 5:43PM

Can I ask the ugly question:
How do you plan to actually launch 1, let alone 20, lander/rovers on a lunar trajectory for less than $5 million dollars, when the very cheapest possible launcher that could do it, the Falcon 1, (which itself still has yet to actually successfully orbit a payload) is $6.3 million under special arrangement for GLXP participants?
And before someone answers that the team plans to use revolutionary, out-of-the-box, low-cost options, I have to inform you that Falcon 1 IS the revolutionary, out-of-the-box, low-cost option. Anything else that's on the market will cost tens of millions, and given the prize's time constraints, the only option is something that is already (or at the very least, almost) on the launch market.
To those jumping up and down to throw their money into this project, especially those considering putting more that a trivial $10, please take the time to do your own research and your own thinking before you drink the kool-aid. There are reasons the established, non-amateur players expect a lunar lander/rover to cost tens of millions of dollars. Anyone who is saying otherwise, and is asking for your money, without telling you how they plan to overcome the significant problems that other serious participants see, is either willfully trying to con you or has conned themselves.
As Carl Sagan said:
'They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.'

josejimenez | Dec 14, 2007 | 6:15PM

"As Carl Sagan said:
'They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.'"

And they should have laughed at Carl Sagan, who was seriously deficient in the imagination department.

And "Contact" doesn't change that opinion.

Richard Steven Hack | Dec 14, 2007 | 6:29PM

In general, there is something to be said for the concept of stating a goal, and capping the goal even before one has a detailed plan for achieving that goal.

It produces motivation and compels imagination and by extension, performance.

Or as Pig Sticker said when asked what the plan was:

"Plan? There ain't no plan!"

I mean, I've been offering for some time now to go get Osama bin Laden - dead or alive (your choice! But dead is easier) - within ninety days for an up-front fee of one billion dollars. (How much as the war in Afghanistan cost so far?) And I expect to make a nine hundred million dollar profit on that deal.

Do I know exactly how to do it? No. But with capital of one billion dollars, I'm absolutely one hundred (well ninety-eight) percent certain I could do it.

The same applies to the Google Prize. Give me $20 million up front, and I'll figure out a way to do it - for a profit. Or give me five million up front, and a profit of $15 million, and I'll do it.

You have to have the monetary resources to make moves before you take on projects like this. You need input from people, you need to collate intelligence, you need organization. That costs money. Raising a hundred thousand here or there might or might not be enough. But millions? Yeah, you can do it with millions available in capital.

Where people go wrong in business is to spend those millions on offices, furniture, and hiring an army of people to do menial work (instead of contracting for specific answers) instead of spending it on intelligence and solutions.

So maybe Cringe has the right idea - but if he doesn't raise enough capital to actually get people moving, his 18 months is gonna turn into five years with no results.

Richard Steven Hack | Dec 14, 2007 | 6:38PM


There is a clue in this column (and in the it was implied I think in the first installment) as to how it can be achieved.

You are picturing a falcon 1, a comparatively small orbital delivery vehicle, but still huge. Read the competition specs. A rover to travel 500m, with a xmitter. This isn't 1969. How big and how heavy do you suppose devices to do that have to be? The size of a matchbox might do it.

The launch I have to agree will still be a challenge even with a/a bunch of tiny payloads, and I don't know what vehicle they could use for under $5mill. But it's more sounding rocket than falcon 1. IMO people imagining a mars rover size vehicle, and all the weight needed to land it are wrong. It's a miniature vehicle that moves (somehow), goes beep beep, then dies. And there's $20mill.

obo | Dec 14, 2007 | 7:20PM

I admire this roll-your-sleeves-up-and-do-it approach. We have to take a lot on faith here at the moment, though. Some major questions have been asked by the other posters - how will you actually launch these suckers to the moon? Despite having the smartest guys in town on your team, if the math says "Amount of energy required to lift payload to Lunar orbit: y Joules; cost of cheapest fuel: $y per joule of usable energy; x*y >= $5 million" then no amount of creativity is going to solve the problem in 18 months.

No doubt the math isn't so dire, so I'll certainly be watching this space.

Colin Jacobs | Dec 14, 2007 | 7:30PM

"PRIZES: The total purse of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is $30 million (USD).
• GRAND PRIZE: A $20 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the team that can soft land a craft on the Moon that roams for at least 500 meters and transmits a Mooncast back to Earth. The Grand Prize is $20M until December 31st 2012.
Come on guy's. Google knows the secret how come you don't. The Mayan calendar ends Dec.21, 2012 and life as we know it ends. The gods are coming back for us on New years Eve and Google has a contract to sell saucer seating on it's new website. www.Google.reptilian

Fast Fred | Dec 14, 2007 | 7:34PM

South Korea's space agency has a plan to get to the moon by 2020.

You'll beat them by some 10 years. Impressive.

Tim | Dec 14, 2007 | 8:33PM

"Fast Cheap and Out of Control".

This documentary featured among many quirky people a robotic scientist with just this approach.

Rock on Cringely! The future lies in lots of cheap devices where one failure doesn't cripple the project.

One multi billion fighter plane or hundreds of remote controlled drones? One lunar rover or many rovers.

I would put my bet on quantity.

Nick | Dec 14, 2007 | 8:53PM

How do we, your readers join up and donate? Perhaps a paypal link or such? As i write this I wonder if there is one on your page somewhere. I will look.

It would be good if you could keep track of that or perhaps setup some sort of certificate we can print out and frame. That would be cool to be a part of this.


kevin | Dec 14, 2007 | 10:45PM

A monumental and irresponsible waste of real and intellectual resources. Has no-one connected this with the looming crisis in energy and climate? Space exploration can wait, the moon will still be there in 100 years but the earth as we know it might not be.

Put the energy (both types) into solving the big issues we have in front of us instead.


Ian | Dec 14, 2007 | 11:33PM

It isn't a question of space flight. It is a question of how to bring together enough total assets to achieve the goal. The business model must grow the assets, improve the balance sheet until the space part can be built or purchased.

How to do it? Work the problem backwards. A very small rover with a very small camera that takes pictures and transmits them continuously. Forget formats and protocols, just send.

How to land? Airbag. Make it so it doesn't have to unfold. Have several openings to allow the surrounding images to find their way to the lens and create a 360 degree (x and y) image sort of like a fisheye that will be transmitted back home. The outside of the airbag could also serve as an antennae so it wouldn't have to be aimed. One side of the airbag would have a remotely controlled rover with wheels, a way to right itself, etc.

How to slow down for the landing? A chemical rocket motor would slow several of the above airbags in one container. This bigger container would burst on impact at a slower speed. Several small rovers to insure that at least one would be able to right itself and drive around.

How get to the moon? Shoot directly at it. Are GPS signals usable on the moon? If so, use them to navigate.

How launch? Vertically. Straight up and straight at it. Solid rockets. Mid course corrections done with the same fuel that Rutan used.

Just plain batteries, don't need fuel cells.

Coordinate everthing with NASA, Space command, whoever.

Keep it simple.

Starzan | Dec 15, 2007 | 12:39AM

i would say that "i, cringely" has jumped the shark with this whole moon thing, but a quick search reveals that it already jumped the shark, according to one reader, back in february. but perhaps this can be the episode where they introduce mork from ork. at least that was funny.

m | Dec 15, 2007 | 1:02AM

If we are to really conquer space, we need to be able to build and launch most of our space vehicles from orbit and we need cheap reliable vehicles to get us up there.

When we have that problem sorted, perhaps we should put a part of the space industry on the Moon. We could use the Moon's resources (not Earth's) to do this.

I'm no space expert, but its got to be a lot cheaper to launch from Earth's orbit or the Moon than from Earth !!

I read a long time ago that there a project to do something like this, I think it was called "Artimis" - anybody know what happened to that ?

Peter Blue | Dec 15, 2007 | 5:37AM

I'm just wondering if this whole Moon project is just another NerdTV?

John | Dec 15, 2007 | 6:29AM

If have been loosly following your attemp to win the Google prize. I have now marked July 4th on the calander with the question Where is "Team Cringely?". I offer my hopes for the best of luck in your teams efforts. I also hope that your team will start a web site so we can follow your progress.

Alvah Humphrey | Dec 15, 2007 | 8:38AM

I don't care WHY you are doing it Bob. I just care that you ARE doing. If we throw enough ships at the moon, one of them will make it.

That's a future worth living for.

Eric J. White | Dec 15, 2007 | 10:30AM

W00t! I wish I could somehow take part in this project and make history...

Jacob Gonzalez | Dec 15, 2007 | 11:30AM

Hey Bob! At the risk of making a lame-o fund-raiser suggestion, what about a "Get to the Moon/Space CHEAP" PayPal button? Something we might copy & paste to our website(s).

Espcially if you put up a website with some details -- "Watch us get to the moon -- $1.00 CHEAP"!

Johnathan Stein | Dec 15, 2007 | 11:46AM

Where is Jubal Harshaw when you need him?

Scott | Dec 15, 2007 | 2:53PM

So you're building a team and have a Program Manager. Already the budget has grown by 67% a few months into a five year program. Sounds a lot like NASA to me, only worse.

And the lead evangelist sounds a lot like one of those beltway bandits from L-M, Raytheon or Northrop-Grumman. Make a lowball offer to win a contract (get the dollars) then figure out how to do the project.

mac84 | Dec 15, 2007 | 4:05PM

Bob, like you, I'm not sure if anyone will actually get to the moon - but I certainly admire your tenacity and drive, and I hope the outcome is all that you expect and more. Today's society has no idea how momentous the original lunar landings really were. The whole world held its breath when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

You really nailed it by stating that there is a need to show industry and government that it can be profitable done. Profit is the common tongue amongst all capitalist organizations - both private enterprise and our government - so speaking that language is essential to success.

Mark Broge | Dec 15, 2007 | 8:01PM

Seems like back in about 1962 or so, the US sent a rocket to the moon that went straight in taking pictures all the way in. Maybe some of their designs and thoughts could be useful.

Starzan | Dec 15, 2007 | 11:47PM

This is the land where bigger has always been better... maybe it is a time for a change...

nanotechnology... small robot... small mass... small escape velocity overhead... bouncing beach ball implosive impact landing... for power: japanese super energy battery... get japanese battery company to sponsor... big returns... and just start imagining all the fallout from all that EVER-READY BUNNY ENVY...

Big returns?... it's still the land of the bottom line...


ps. Use an electromagnetic "blow gun" assisted small missile launch... there's much more of course... the devil is in the details...

geo | Dec 16, 2007 | 1:18AM

Best of luck to Team Cringely! I look forward to the video and future endeavors.

Cooper | Dec 16, 2007 | 4:18PM

This seems like more of the same. Its already been done so why again? What I would like to see is a nuclear electric planetary cruiser built in orbit. To augment the knashing of teeth it should be put into orbit using a rocket that puts out gobs of CO2. We can offset this rockets output by having the true believers to each hold their breath for 20 minutes. Build it in a modular fashion so as to allow the drive to be updated and the reactor reused.

Fred | Dec 16, 2007 | 5:33PM

Where is Project Orion when you need it? Go read "Curve of Binding Energy" by John McFee to get some background. It will also scare the hell out of you vis a vis the coming atomic energy future. Much detail on how to build a plutonium bomb.

DILBERT DOGBERT | Dec 16, 2007 | 10:59PM

This sounds like a lot of good old fashioned fun to me.

Dave | Dec 17, 2007 | 1:11AM

Has no one read previous columns? Bob talked about getting a used MiG: they've got to be thinking about piggybacking on anti-satellite missile technology. Fly the MiG up as high as you can, point it up -- that's got to be at least 1/4 the way there. Fire a missile with a bunch of tiny rovers in it -- voila!

Tad Sketchy | Dec 17, 2007 | 1:16AM

Thank you for the clarification on the prize money. That'll learn me to read headlines...

Rob | Dec 17, 2007 | 1:24AM

Bob, while I appreciate the article, it's also somewhat skewed in favour of what you are doing. Either conflict of interest, or bias, but advocating for something that you are pursuing, even if you don't intend to continue with it after the X Prize, does detract from the article somewhat.

PS Can I have your permission to be Fake Bob Cringely?

Graham | Dec 17, 2007 | 1:57AM

I hope you're right about your approach. I suspect Colin Pillinger would have agreed with you, in his (perforced) approach to Beagle 2. Yet when that small risk failed, his approach was villified. What a pity he couldn't find room for 20 Beagles.


silo | Dec 17, 2007 | 6:02AM

Humans have been stuck in low earth orbit ever since the Soviet Moon program fizzled. We beat them to Moon and had no one to compete against.

Americans need a competitor in order to improve. The car industry didn't change until the Japanesse
ate Detorit's lunch.

The X prize and Google's prize and hopefully the Chinese will jumpstart human space exploration
of space. Maybe the Sleeping Giant of American industry will awaken once again once it is embrassed into action.

John | Dec 17, 2007 | 10:24AM

Like to know what you are going to launch on... And when this fails, can i get the video as a double feature with your failed attempt to build an airplane?

D | Dec 17, 2007 | 10:26AM

Your last paragraph read to me a lot like Kennedy's famed 1961 moon speech. Good on you Bob, I truly wish you success and if I had anything to offer the project, you would have my backing in a flash.

Daniel | Dec 17, 2007 | 11:22AM

I hope there is a PBS film crew following the project team around. I would love to see a Google Lunar X prize documentary. How do we invest?

Dennis | Dec 17, 2007 | 2:16PM

NASA will never allow any private company to compete for manned access to space. They will praise private efforts and maybe even throw in a few $$ now and then, but behind the scenes they will do everything possible to stall or kill any effort that challenges their 4-decade monopoly.

Former administrator Sean O'Keif tried to rationalize NASA's priorities and ordered the centers to improve propulsion systems to get away from the chemical rockets designed by dead German scientists in the '50s and '60s. His initiative was stifled by the existing bureaucracy and the Shuttle accident in '02. Now we have Mr. Griffing payin' the "oldies" with a 2010 version of the Apollo Program -- basically 1960s rocket technology with a few microprocessors thrown in for effect -- the public really likes dem blinin' lights.

Griffin's blather about manned missions to Mars is laughable too. Sentencing astronauts to weightlessness and radiation exposure for the 2-3 years required for one of these expeditions is almost criminal IMO.

We need to build a reliable (e.g. nuclear) propulsion infrastructure that can get us out of Earth orbit and to the Moon, Mars or beyond in a fraction of the time now required. Google's prize should involve demonstrations of new propulsion technologies, not silly stunts like the once Team Cringely is vying for.

Jason Y | Dec 17, 2007 | 6:14PM

By cheaper rovers are you talking 1963 Volkswagen Beetles wrapped in bubble wrap. Most would survive a free fall landing, thus saving on deceleration fuel costs.
Hopefully Svitek brings to the team capacities to avoid failures that plagued many Mars missions, vis. simple electronic component failure, and units of measurement programming confusion.
If your are sending lots of missions then you could always use the tried and tested Russian method of not announcing the failures.
Despite my jests, I do wish you good luck!

Phil H | Dec 17, 2007 | 9:18PM

I can't help notice that you still haven't mentioned just how small your rovers will be. Are you afraid that people will die laughing and that their families will sue you once they learn that those rovers will have to be the size of Mattel Hot Wheels vehicles? I won't laugh because I don't see how anyone can do this otherwise.

Alain | Dec 18, 2007 | 7:08PM

It seems obvious that they're going to be sending very small rovers or there'd be just no way to do it.

There's a probably apocryphal story that used to do the rounds among Physics and Math geeks about a guy in Canada who could launch coin-sized objects into low orbit with a rail gun in his back yard. This seems like exactly the kind of technology that could probably scale to the necessary level to achieve the goal for $5M.

Build a small container with an outer conductive layer suitable for firing via rail gun, stick a tiny rover inside it, wrapped in some kind of expandable foam. Now the trick is to get it to glance off the moon and bounce to a reasonably safe landing.

Tonio Loewald | Dec 18, 2007 | 7:54PM

I bet $50 that Cringely's rover will have inflatable wheels.

bog | Dec 18, 2007 | 8:39PM

What kind of data link will there be? How are you expecting to do the telemetry? I have a bunch of old satellite TV dishes and LNB's for receiving, and even a few satellite Internet transmitters. I bet there are not a few ham radio guys that would fall all over themselves to get a chance for a transmitter on the moon. I haven't done the math yet to see what the minimum wattage/dish size would be needed, if it will be done. How else will you show you reached the moon?

Steve Graham | Dec 19, 2007 | 7:54AM

I still do not see how you can manage to reach the moon with just a $5 million budget, but I sure as hell would like to see you do it.
Having said that I'm afraid that it might start space exploration all over again and I doubt it's wise to spend all that money to look what's out there in space when it's more than clear that we haven't even began to scratch the surface of the problems we have down here on earth that could make good use of that same money.

JeePee | Dec 19, 2007 | 9:08AM

For those who say 'spend the money down here': Billions of dollars are wasted down here already, on political pork and aid to kleptocracies. Try saving a tiny percentage of that, before taking Bob's little $5 million.

Rick | Dec 19, 2007 | 2:55PM

$5,000,000. 20 shots. That's $250,000 per shot, to land on the moon. Ambitious.

ownedByTwoCats | Dec 19, 2007 | 4:28PM

I really have to chastise anyone in the "spend the money here" camp. If our terrestrial problems could be solved by just throwing money at them, they would have been solved long ago. The real issue is that most people have given up on the big problems because they just seem impossible. How many times have you heard “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we fix…?”

Bob’s optimism is exactly the kind of thinking that we will need to solve the problems "down here". Opening up local space could easily be the spark that causes an explosion of ideas and concentration of resources. If the world sees a small group of dedicated people do something that the US government has admitted they couldn’t do in less than 10 years, perhaps they’ll start saying “Hey! If Bob could put a lander on the Moon for $5 million, maybe we really can fix…”

That’s Revolution!

Carl Campbell | Dec 20, 2007 | 9:30AM

Re: ownedByTwoCats
Who said 20 shots? He said (in effect) 20 rovers.
Could be a lot less than 20 launches. Think
Ranger style landers (lithobraking) :-P with
many hardened mini-rovers... and the smaller they
are, the likelier this can be made to work.

As for 5M$ budget though ... that won't cover the
cost of the paperwork. After all, something
capable of intercontinental bombing will be
built, and with at least one U.S. citizen
involved, U.S. law will be applied (legally
or otherwise) wherever the launch site.

Ludwig von Zopfault | Dec 20, 2007 | 6:32PM

Spending money can solve a problem. Spending lot of money to solve the problem becomes the problem. In the 1960s one of the islands in the marriannas island group had a Bell&Howell movie projecter it broke. The island was poor so they sumitted a grand request to the federal goverment(the island was a procterate of the US) total asked about $250 including shipping. Rejected
However the Feds would be happy to approve $250K grant for an AV suite for the school. Which was unuseable, unneeded, and a waste in the islands.
but they could get it approved.
Throwing money at problems can work provide you throwing at the problem and not the pencial pushers who are building job security. Working the problem not the system is the key

Robert Callaway | Dec 21, 2007 | 1:32PM

As John McEnroe used to say: "You can't be serious" about all this stuff, Bob.
Anyone who has ever worked in the aerospace biz knows there is no way to do what you want to do for the kind of small change funding you're proposing.
I'd recommend to you that you rethink and redirect your blog mission to a better purpose rather than evengelizing such a "mission impossible". Why not use your deep experience and knowledge to spread more info to the masses about areas of more general interest? Oh yes, and more realistic ideas and less arcanery, to coin a word.

Irv Halland | Dec 23, 2007 | 3:59PM

Why the pessimism, Irv? Either this is going to be spectacularly successful, or a spectacular embarasment. In either case it will be entertaining to watch. And if it's the latter, I'm sure Bob's take on it will be honest.

aaronp808 | Dec 25, 2007 | 11:51PM