by Morris Jones for SpaceDaily
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 27, 2015
"Do, or do not do. There is no try!" Thus spoke Jedi Master Yoda to his apprentice Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Right now, it would seem that the managers of the Google Lunar X-Prize could do with some similar advice from the little green guy.
The Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) is a $30 million purse to be awarded to the first private team to land a rover on the Moon and perform a set list of tasks there. It's been brewing for years.
We have been treated to media releases, news of activities by various teams, conferences and speeches. It seemed like such a good idea to start this competition, following in the wake of the Ansari X-Prize for private human spaceflight that was claimed by Space Ship One in 2004.
It probably wasn't such a bad idea to introduce some minor deadline extensions when the difficulties of the task became apparent. But enough is enough. The GLXP has been changed and deferred so many times that it's starting to become comical. If its bosses don't draw a clear line in the regolith very soon, they will turn a great project into a fiasco.
Let's be clear that some of the teams competing for the GLXP are comprised of excellent people who are giving everything to their efforts. But there's an undeniable reality. The principal goals of the prize have not been met by any entrant so far.
Nobody has landed on the Moon, despite the fact that the original deadline for the full prize was 2012. The Prize shouldn't allow so much slack in terms of extensions. Otherwise we will be forever extending the deadline, just like NASA keeps changing its timetable for sending astronauts to Mars.
We should respect the sponsors, organisers and participants in the GLXP. They have generally been good sports. But some of the early entrants were completely unrealistic, and some still are.
Although nobody has landed on the Moon, we should not regard the prize as a failure. It has inspired thousands of space aspirants. It has attracted a lot of publicity for spaceflight. It has produced some interesting ideas and designs.
Much is gained from the journey as well as the destination. Even the problems are instructive. We have gained a deeper understanding of the challenges that confront privately sponsored spaceflight. These lessons are vital to more than just competitors for the Prize. "New Space" is a growing trend right now, and this will continue well into the future.
So we have still gained results from running the GLXP. It's been fun for all of us to watch. But we are now at a tipping point. The law of diminishing returns has clearly set in. We know it's hard to fly to the Moon. That lesson has been demonstrated so well, and we don't need to repeat this class. The delays and regular shifting of the goalposts discredits the whole idea of striving for high standards. They also compromise the integrity of the whole venture.
The GLXP needs a reality check. That will require some tough analysis and some tough calls. It will deflate much of the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the launch of the GLXP by Buzz Aldrin and other luminaries. But it's better than slowly drifting into irrelevance and becoming an object of ridicule.
We all hoped that things would turn out better for the GLXP and its participants. We are grateful to everyone who has participated. But it's time to take heed of some tough realities. It's time to fix the rules and deadlines in stone. It's time to demand that participants do, or do not do. If nobody meets the goals, then the GLXP should be retired with dignity.
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