Jump-starting innovation

First it was Earth, then space. Now Google is going after the moon.

Through the X Prize Foundation, the Internet search firm is laying down a cool $20 million to anyone who can land a privately funded robotic rover on the moon and transmit back images.

Dubbed Moon 2.0, contestants will have until the end of 2012 to accomplish the task. A prize of $5 million will go the second-place effort.

This is the fourth such contest sponsored by the X Prize Foundation. The first one resulted in the first privately sponsored sub-orbital space flight in 2004. The craft that accomplished this is scheduled to be used by a space tourism company set to debut in 2009.

Last year, the foundation kicked off the Archon X Prize for genetics. The first team to map 100 human genomes in 10 days will receive $10 million. This spring they announced the $10 million Automotive X Prize for the first 100 miles-per-gallon vehicle.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk, the father of Zip2 and Paypal, offered his low-cost launch vehicle, now under development, to these teams at a discount.

Hooray for these efforts.

After years of scientific achievement languishing in the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the federal government, it is refreshing to get the entrepreneurial spirit back on board in science and engineering.

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