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Moon NASA Science

2 Companies Win NASA's Moon-Landing Prize Money 110

Posted by timothy
from the what-happened-to-$150k? dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA said it will this week award $1.65 million in prize money to a pair of aerospace companies that successfully simulated landing a spacecraft on the moon and lifting off again. NASA's Centennial Challenges program, which was managed by the X Prize Foundation, will give a $1 million first prize to Masten Space Systems and a $500,000 second prize to Armadillo Aerospace for successfully completing the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge."
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2 Companies Win NASA's Moon-Landing Prize Money

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  • by TigerNut (718742) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:25AM (#29964624) Homepage Journal
    Armadillo completed the challenge several months ago, but their landing accuracy was slightly worse than Masten's attempt. Masten completed the challenge only one day before the expiration of the contest, and was able to do it only because another competitor failed and the X prize foundation allowed Masten to use their launch window (they'd earlier used up their scheduled time slots without doing a successful flight). Armadillo didn't have time or launch permits to go back and improve their accuracy.

    John Carmack was understandably disappointed in losing the $500K but is taking the long view that Masten needs the money more than they do, and they've already moved on to new projects.

  • Re:humm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:44AM (#29964904)

    "It's almost as easy to click the link and RTFA as it is to complain about the summary..."

    True, but it doesn't accomplish the same thing.

    If you RTFA you find out where the error in TFS came from; complaining about the summary may or may not accomplish this.

    If you complain, you draw attention to the poor quality of the summary. RTFA will not do this.

    Now, you can argue about what good it does to draw attention to the summary - clearly it's not like the editors care what we think of their work. I can't argue with wanting to make a point, though, and I certainly don't get where the moderators come up with GP as a troll.

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:01PM (#29965132)

    The difference is in cost. The hope is that for mere eraser shavings we can have small private companies develop the modern guidance and control software for a lander that would take traditional contractors with NASA direction much more to develop.

    When someone says "we did it 50 years ago" remind them that we did it then with 3-4 times the budget, and improved computer technology only lends incremental advantages -- plus that there was some loss of institutional knowledge of vehicle development since we haven't developed anything successfully since the shuttle.

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:01PM (#29965142)

    Yes unfortunately 30 years ago. We stopped doing it. And after 30 years most of the people who were involved retired. Or are near retiring. IF we kept it up we will probably be so much better at space travel. However the shuttle product made space travel a bad thing for government, to expensive and not far reaching enough. We need to get off the idea of the StarTrek reusable ship. Until we get much better at it.

  • Re:humm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:13PM (#29965302)

    Occasionally, but most of the time the link is to a blog, writing about another blog, who linked to a new article on some aggregator site like Engadget, that may link to the NASA article, but probably links to someone elses blog about the original article.

    Rarely are the links to the actual content, without a bunch of opinions and misinterpretations thrown in for good measure.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:18PM (#29965386)

    Its not fair, but the universe doesn't have a concept of fair, just reality (or this dimensions version of reality away, thats open to debate)

  • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:18PM (#29965388)

    Agreed!

    NASA really administered this contest poorly. At a minimum, the prize money should have been equal and in my opinion, not even that would be fair.

    It is really frustrating when the "judges" make rules allowances late in the game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:41PM (#29965692)

    Is that so surprising? Have you heard of Robert Goddard? :-)

  • by cowscows (103644) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:21PM (#29966864) Journal

    Yeah, but it sounds like Carmack's argument is that he thinks that he could do even better yet again if they had an extra flight. Which makes sense, every time you do a test flight, you learn something, and so that should make your next flight even better. Take this further, and if your ultimate goal is to get the best possible design, then the contest should never end, because there's always room for improvement.

    But in reality, when you create a contest, you have to have rules and you have to have a deadline. Bending the rules for one team but not the others is generally unfair. The extra day most certainly did help, because apparently their craft was unable to fly on its three "regulation" attempts.

  • by cyberthanasis12 (926691) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:43PM (#29967078)

    Armadillo completed the challenge several months ago, but their landing accuracy was slightly worse than Masten's attempt. Masten completed the challenge only one day before the expiration of the contest, and was able to do it only because another competitor failed and the X prize foundation allowed Masten to use their launch window (they'd earlier used up their scheduled time slots without doing a successful flight). Armadillo didn't have time or launch permits to go back and improve their accuracy.

    John Carmack was understandably disappointed in losing the $500K but is taking the long view that Masten needs the money more than they do, and they've already moved on to new projects.

    Not only that. Carmack's vehicle was bigger and thus closer to the real thing, and more difficult to handle. However the control was so accurate that the vehicle hardly oscillated or rotated at all. Much better than Masten's vehicle - even an amateur like me could see it.
    IMO Carmack should get the 1st prize. Mastens did also very good job, and would deserve the 1st prize, if Carmack's vehicle were absent.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:49PM (#29967164)

    "Blatantly unfair" ... hmm... I take it you don't work in the business world? :-)

    I agree it doesn't sound right but then lots of people on slashdot shout that NASA should behave more like a business concern and less like a bloated government department... being totally and blatantly unfair when it suits them to get the results they want is a good way towards operating like many major corporations...

  • by HEbGb (6544) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @03:11PM (#29967470)

    The should absolutely behave like a business concern.

    But when people are robbed of their just rewards, especially for short-sighted PR reasons, it undermines the trust in the organization itself. Who in their right mind would now put up real money and effort into competing for this prize, when the organizers have already shown that they're perfectly happy to cheat?

    That's bad business.

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @03:35PM (#29967774)

    How do we get better at it if we don't practice, make mistakes, make surprising discoveries about what works right although we never expected it to?

    We'll never learn anything if we don't try.

    However, we're not really going to leave our solar system any time soon for any useful reason until we can break some things we consider 'laws of physics'. Space is just too big and it'll take too long to do anything useful. It takes too long to do anything useful other than what we can manage in orbit already. The moon is barely acceptable. Mars is a long shot and is basically a suicide mission that may but dumb luck get back home at this point. We're going to try anyway, cause thats what we do.

    In the words of Brad Cooper or Wright (writers of Stargate) spoken through Jack Oneill, 'We are a curious race, we're out there now, we can use all the help we can get'

  • Re:humm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by osu-neko (2604) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:27PM (#29968516)

    But even before SI existed Kilo still meant 10^3. Mega still meant 10^6 and Giga still meant 10^9. They never meant 2^10, 2^20, or 2^30 before being corrupted.

    OMG! Surely you aren't suggesting that computer scientists would ever take a common word and repurpose it for their own use! Where would it end? Imagine how confusing it would be if physicists started talking about the "color" of quarks or such! Inventing new meanings for existing words should obviously never be allowed... :p

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @07:36PM (#29971600)

    Invention isn't linear. We don't actually have to be building spaceplanes in order to improve the technology required for spaceplanes.

    The atmospheric portion of any spaceflight involves the same techniques as atmospheric flight in general- improving the technologies for regular flight helps with spaceflight.

    The space-based portion of spaceflight involves the same techniques, regardless of whether your craft is reusable. Getting better at spaceflight in general will mean we're better at reusable spaceflight.

    Spaceplanes are made of stuff. Improvements in materials and components, in all their various unrelated fields and industries, will help improve your potential spaceplane. Better computers, better fuel mixes, better launch mechanisms- you name it, you can improve it.

    We don't actually need to be mucking around in woefully inadequate spaceplanes for the sake of some distant potential awesome reusable spacecraft. When we're ready to build a decent one, a decent one will definitely get built.

    In the mean time, can we just use spacecraft which are actually useful?

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by selven (1556643) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @07:39PM (#29971634)

    Ships can, and should be reusable. In deep space. The solution is to decouple deep space travel and launch - when you're launching the ship you need multistage and some other tricks to escape the gravity well. But when you're in space you can use the same ship to travel to Mars and back twice, with only a refueling stop, since it takes rather little energy to propel yourself once you're out of Earth's gravity.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @12:38AM (#29974112) Journal
    Hitting the backspace key in the Commodore Pet version give you negative thrust. It would actually pull you down to the lunar surface, but your lander would gain fuel. Quite useful at times.
  • by IrquiM (471313) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:14AM (#29975460) Homepage

    It is really frustrating when the "judges" make rules allowances late in the game.

    Actually - the rules stated that the judges could do this - but yes, I agree

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