Wikinews interviews William Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation

Regardless of who wins the prize, people all around the world will be able to experience the mission through high-def video-streams.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Photo of William Pomerantz.
Image: X PRIZE Foundation.

Andreas Hornig, Wikinews contributor and team member of Synergy Moon, competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize, managed to interview Senior Director of Space Prizes William Pomerantz of the X PRIZE Foundation about the competitions, goals, and impacts via e-mail for and Wikinews.


((Andreas Hornig)) Please introduce yourself and the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP)

((William Pomerantz)) My name is William Pomerantz, and I am the Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation. In that capacity, I manage all of our space activities here at the X PRIZE, including most notably the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that is challenging and inspiring engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. By reigniting a race to the Moon, we are engaging a new generation, making lunar exploration not just a historical accomplishment but a tangible and ongoing reality. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a competition that will award US$30 million for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the Moon. The robot is required explore the Moon by travelling 500 meters along, above, or below the lunar surface and by transmitting high definition video and high resolution photos back to Earth.

Logo of the GLXP.
Image: Google.

((AH)) Why is Google, an internet services provider, interested in philanthropic and scientific fields?

((WP)) Google believes that by setting an ambitious goal like landing on the surface of the Moon and by offering an incentive prize is a good way to both inspire the world and to incentivize the development of technologies and systems that will both allow us to explore the universe and, in so doing, improve the state of humanity in the world. As Larry Page said when we announced the Google Lunar X PRIZE, "science has a serious marketing problem, and I think this is the best antidote I’ve seen for that."

A few choice words from Sergey Brin also help explain Google's role in this endeavour: “We’re proud to sponsor the Google Lunar X PRIZE. … Google is sponsoring this PRIZE because it is really different than any other kind of corporate sponsorship that I’ve seen. It’s really going to accomplish something very, very impressive. ... We hope to have helped make private space flight more viable. Efforts like this will stimulate a passion for space-related research and education in a new generation of potential innovators. ... One of the things that really exited me about this project is how it can help with education. I mean, space really fascinates college students, and I think this will inspire a lot of interest in space, in the physics that surrounds it, the math, and the history of the space programs. I think all the interest and attention on this prize is going to be very beneficial to the education of our children. We’re hopeful that our sponsorship of the Lunar X PRIZE will help spark a new generation’s interest in the fields of math, science, and computer science, which should ultimately prove quite beneficial to both the international workforce in general and Google in particular.”" (WP)

((AH)) One of the tasks the GLXP-teams have to do is to capture and stream videos in high-definition quality from Moon back to Earth. Why is this important?

((WP)) An important aspect of "Moon 2.0"--the new era of lunar exploration--is how participatory it is. Regardless of who wins the Google Lunar X PRIZE, millions upon millions of people all around the world will be able to experience the mission through these video streams. That's hugely important as we look to capitalize on the excitement inherent in those voyages to get people of all background more excited about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

((AH)) What conditions do these 720p videos have to meet? Bandwidth in space is still crucial and expensive, so high frame-rates and data-rates will be difficult to broadcast as a live stream and videos with frame-rates almost in still-mode aren't interesting for audiences. So what wonderful dynamic sequences can we expect? And What cameraman's and editor's dreams do you want to see come true, like color-depth, contrast (finally seeing stars on Moon images not outshined by Moon's surface) or even audio-video codec?

((WP)) We've imposed a few minimum quality guidelines upon our teams, but the majority of these decisions will be left them. We want to give them the freedom to select both the shots and the technology that best fits their mission--the design of their spacecraft or spacecrafts, the landing site they chose, the manner in which they move along or above the lunar surface, et etcetera.

((AH)) What will happen to the video and the collected data? Is there a plan to publish the video on YouTube and to integrate the photos in Google-Earth? Is this the logic expansion of StreetView to bring people to places, where really most of us won't never ever put a step?

((WP)) The video and other footage will be majorly promoted around the world. We expect that this will be a massive, global story that appeals to a huge variety of audiences, and we'll work with our partners to provide as many ways as possible for fans and for students to follow along.

((AH)) A nice little side-effect will be if one team will accomplish the secondary point to rover to one of the Apollo mission landing sites and capture images of the remaining relics. Wouldn't it be helpful to prove a lot of Moon landing conspiracy theories wrong by finding and showing these relics? This will definitely influence the search rates of this topic on Google. And how do you achieve conservation of these almost sacred monuments of human accomplishment and not contaminating it with new tracks of landing and rover gears?

((WP)) The Google Lunar X PRIZE includes a bonus prize for revisiting the sites of previous missions to the Moon--including not only the Apollo sites, but a variety of other robotic probe landing or impact sites. This is important not just for the reasons you mention, but also carries a huge amount of scientific significance as well. This is the reason why NASA itself has already conducted one such mission, when the Apollo 12 crew visited one of the Surveyor landers.

Our teams all understand that any such visit needs to be done respectfully, though. Thankfully, no one can appreciate the historical significance of the vehicles currently on the lunar surface more thoroughly than those people all around the world currently working on new lunar missions. Each of them will have enormous emotional incentives to ensure that whatever they do, they do respectfully--and, with teams relying largely on donors, corporate sponsors, and similar who are backing their missions to earn good will, they will have financial incentives as well.

((AH)) Although space-exploration has ever been an object of national prestige, the importance of international and multilateral connections are so intense that almost any big space project and mission is the result of close collaboration. The International Space Station (ISS) is on a global scale, the Ariane 5 launcher on a European scale and even the members of GLXP-teams are working together across borders. Is it possible to connect the collected data with other already collected data, like the Japanese SELENE-Mission, that Kaguya named orbiter also had a HDTV-camera on board and took videos from lunar orbit, or future missions like European long term mission plan (Aurora Programme) and Indian and Chinese missions planed to go to the Moon? Although the teams are privately funded the scientific data should be used for the benefit of everybody and that it could be validated by the scientific community.

((WP)) The missions of the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams are indeed sure to add to the body of data used by professional and amateur scientists and engineers all around the world.

((AH)) The Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee (Augustine Commission) last year and US President Obama's speech in February changed the goals of the US space programs. Especially President Obama announced that the emphasis of private contractors should be strengthened to reduce public money in NASA and other related projects on the one side but also to encourage private enterprise to fill in the gaps (like private company SpaceX servicing the ISS with Falcon launchers). In this highly disputed way NASA should play the role of the arrowhead to do the high-level exploration and leaving ground for private business in low-level.

Way back before this was announced the GLXP was started. Did you foresee this and what could be GLXP's part in this new orientation?

((WP)) It's difficult to say where exactly the final decision will end up regarding the future of NASA's exploration programs, but one this is already clear: people on both sides of the debate are realizing that, if appropriately planned out, civil space agencies can greatly benefit from space exploration capabilities developed by private firms. To reach the ideal, most efficient situation, it's important to ensure that the capabilities being developed by these commercial firms are complementary to, rather than competitive with, what NASA and its counterparts in other nations are developing. Thankfully, this is exactly the case, and indeed, we had veterans of both NASA and ESA involved in helping us draft the rules for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. In the end, the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams will be developing a large number of systems and technologies that NASA, ESA, and other agencies can use to accomplish more of the amazing things those agencies do for less money.

((AH)) Are there special points a team can get for capturing videos in stereoscopic 3D? Some Mars rovers had 3D-cameras on board and even director Cameron is investing private money to help NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Mission to get a previously dumped 3D-camera on board the Curiosity rover. On the one hand side it is scientifically worth to have this for optical measurements and on the other it will provide a more realistic view to the audience. And of course YouTube offers a beta status feature to present it in adequate ways with current stereoscopic video-players. You still have time to complete it.

((WP)) Teams will likely see some important financial incentives for capturing videos in 3D, but the Google Lunar X PRIZE itself does not explicitly reward this. Recall, though, that the Google Lunar X PRIZE should be just the first step of a long and lucrative business plan for our competing teams.

((AH)) What will you do for the first successful mission? is there media-coverage planned? from Twitter feeds to live-streams and of course videos on YouTube and possible documentary distribution, besides doing a celebration party on Googleplex! For the first moon landings the video is one of the most significant historical recordings and was broadcast all over the world, even with low resolution, noisy quality and in black-white. And some of this data was almost lost and poorly archived so that it had to be restored before being released in 720p for the 40th anniversary. How will you handle these priceless records?

((WP)) We definitely plan on a huge, real-time online presence coinciding with any Google Lunar X PRIZE attempts. Social media will play a key role.

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((AH)) I'm a Mars enthusiast, so what will come after the successful GLXP mission? will there be a Google Mars X-Prize eventually, or will there be a logical next step like a GLXP with sample return requirement? The X-Prize Foundation announced new Categories and more competitions every year. What can we expect?

((WP)) We are currently considering a wide range of potential future space X PRIZEs. We're looking at a broad range of technologies and missions, including everything from orbital debris clean up to radically more efficient launch technologies.

((AH)) In closing, do you have a question, request or wish for our readers?

((WP)) Please, be sure to follow along with the competition and with our teams by visiting our various web properties--see below for a list. Our teams really appreciate feedback: it is great to know that there are people out there following their progress, and cheering them on!

GLXP related websites: Official Webpage: YouTube Channel: Staff Blog: Facebook: Twitter: Tumblr:

((AH)) Thank you for this nice interview and clear sky for all teams!

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This interview originally appeared on, released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Credit for this interview goes to and Andreas -horn- Hornig.