Friday, September 14, 2007

Google captured by space aliens!

Instead of Google Earth why don't we just call the Earth Google and be done with it--The folks at Google, who buy up everything they can find on earth, are slowly pushing their way into space. With more money than Croesus (or almost Bill Gates), the company has posted $30 million out of its petty cash drawer to stir somebody into putting robots on the moon. The company will give $20 million to the first group that lands a privately funded robotic rover on the lunar surface. The requirement is that it must rove at least 500 meters and send back images. A second prize of $5 million, plus a $5 million bonus will be added for additional tasks.

You better hurry. The prize goes down by half if no one does it by 2012, and the reward ends in 2014. Google even hired an astronaut, Ed Lu, to run the project.

The prize is in association with the X PRIZE Foundation (which gave a reward to Burt Rutan for being the first to launch a privately owned manned aircraft into suborbital space twice) and is welcome here. I covered the space program and the manned lunar expeditions, and never dreamed then that humanity would retreat from the moon and lose its vision of exploration. We haven't been there in 34 years. We prefer to spend our money on wars. I would rather we actually sent people up there, but at least we'd be doing something.

For Google, incidentally, this is not the first time they are dealing with space. They struck a jaw-dropping $1.3 million deal with NASA recently so they could park their corporate jets at NASA's Moffett Field in Mt. View, near their campus. The company gets to park three planes at Moffett, including the Boeing 767-200 the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, use as their corporate jet (talk about the road to excess!) and in return, NASA gets to put whatever instrumentation it wants on the planes. The other two planes are more modest Gulfstreams. NASA has already done an experiment on a meteor shower from one of the Gulfstreams. The deal is great for Brin and Page: Moffett is four miles from Google headquarters and the poor dears don't have to drive to San Jose or San Francisco like mere mortal CEOs to get on their plane. What the hell they are doing with a 767, I have no idea. A bowling alley in the air? Swimming pools would weigh too much.

NASA said it thinks the deal is neat. Besides flying experiments on Google planes, the money helps defray the cost of operating Moffett, which is adjacent to the Ames Research Center. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, that's a picture of their little investment up above.

Google's approach to buying things is admirable, by the way. They seem to look around for things that might be interesting and just buy them and figure out what to do with them later. I use a telephone service called Grand Central. I have one telephone number and it will ring on any phone I tell it it to. You dial the number (a Maryland area code because I normally live in Baltimore) and it will ring on my cell phone wherever it is, and my home and office phones, even here in Alaska. It does voice mail, contacts you by e-mail if there is a voice mail in your box, let's you listen to it on the web, and even call the number back. Amazingly, it is so far free. Google, of course, bought it up within months of its start up. It is still in beta, for heaven's sakes. It had potential; they have the cash. It's at, and I love it. Google's record is such that I doubt they will screw it up.

Usually, when a company gets that big, you learn to hate it. See Microsoft. For some reason, I can't bring myself to hate them yet. They are simply cool. Rich, but cool.

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