NASA’s Lunar Lander Competition is designed to stimulate private companies to build space-travel related hardware. In this case, the challenge — with a million dollar prize — is to build a vehicle that can launch upward, move horizontally, and land on a simulated lunar surface… then do it again in reverse. Also? The vehicle has to have a flight time of at least 90 seconds for the Level 1 challenge, and 180 seconds for Level 2.
Armadillo Aerospace passed the level 1 challenge last year, and as of last week had completed the challenge for Level 2! They have a very cool video of it on their website. The guys who run up to it with fire extinguishers are a lot braver than I am. The whole trip took just under two hours, including refueling between flights.
AA has not yet won the challenge, though; there are two other companies trying for the purse as well. If one of those companies does make it, then the megabuck award will go to the one who landed more accurately. Those attempts will be made around the end of October.
These prizes are a fantastic idea. Even though it costs substantially more to build these vehicles than the prize money awarded, it sets up a fierce (but I think friendly) rivalry between companies, and spurs our very-human competitive nature. That’s in part what drives us onward… and upward.