With the dawning of 2017, the Google Lunar XPrize competition has entered it final stretch. The Google Lunar XPrize Foundation has announced a $1 million “diversity” award to be shared by all 16 participants. But only five teams, being the only ones who secured a launch contract, have advanced to the final stage. The teams are:

  • Moon Express (United States)
  • SpaceIL (Israel)
  • Synergy Moon (International)
  • Team Indus (India)
  • Team Hakuto (Japan)

The first team to land on the surface of the moon, move 500 meters, and return high-resolution video and images to Earth will win a $20 million prize.

The runner up will take home $5 million.

Besides winning money and glory by being the first private group to land on the moon, the teams have various motivations. Moon Express and Team Hakuto are interested in lunar mining opportunities. TeamIl would like to create an “Apollo effect” that will spur science, technology, and education in Israel, while giving the Jewish state a great deal of prestige.

Moon Race 2.0 has not yet engendered the kind of excitement and media coverage that the original Apollo race to the moon did in the 1960s. However, as the day comes closer when one or more of the teams is prepared to launch, one suspects that media attention will be focused on the event. The first private moon landing or landings will likely occur 45 years after the last of the Apollo missions explored the lunar surface.

Ironically, the commander of Apollo 17, Gene Cernan, recently died.

The Google Lunar XPrize is taking place against the backdrop of a renewed worldwide interest in the moon. Russia and China have plans for lunar exploration, with a Chinese sample return mission scheduled to take place in 2017. The European Space Agency is touting the concept of an international “Moon Village.” Even the United States, with the beginning of the Donald Trump administration, is keenly interested in a NASA/commercial return to the moon.

Space missions have not sparked the kind of media attention that Apollo enjoyed since the last lunar mission. However, the spectacle of a handful of small, plucky, private teams vying to be first on the moon may revive such attention, a welcome respite to terrorism and political acrimony.