The latest entrant in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition is Team Synergy Moon, bringing the total number of teams to seventeen. I am excited to say that I am a member of this team. Back in late 2007, some members of Interplanetary Ventures approached me via Facebook and asked if I'd be interested in discussing options for their proposed lunar project. I agreed and ended up suggesting several possible science targets for the mission. Over time, the team designated me as Science Officer and is now calling me Principal Investigator. We haven't really started the hard design work yet, but now that our entrance into the competition is official, I expect more activity on that front. I'll keep the readers posted on updates from time to time, or you can check out the links in the press release below. Another unofficial press release from a couple of weeks ago is available here.


MOJAVE, Calif. (February 27, 2009) -- The ambitious dream of returning to the Moon - this time to stay - is alive and well in a magnificently diverse team of space enthusiasts, artists, engineers, students, and explorers jointly called SYNERGY MOON, the latest entrant in the X PRIZE Foundation's Google Lunar X PRIZE. The team, comprised of 48 members from 15 countries across the globe, is sponsored by, the world's oldest space tourism contest organization. SYNERGY MOON has also partnered with rocket manufacturer Interorbital Systems (IOS), which competed in the historic 2004 ANSARI X PRIZE $10 MM Race to Space.

"The Google Lunar X PRIZE is meant to open the field of lunar exploration to a global community of inventors, explorers, and entrepreneurs," said William Pomerantz, Space Projects Senior Director, X PRIZE Foundation. "SYNERGY MOON is a fantastic addition to our roster of teams - the team includes a truly global set of innovators who will approach this difficult mission with new ideas and new passion."

The SYNERGY MOON team was created through the collaboration of three interrelated organizations: InterPlanetary Ventures (IPV), a private sector space promoter; the Human Synergy Project (HSP), a multi-national sustainable projects group; and Interorbital Systems' rocket team, led by Roderick Milliron.

"Our mission in entering the Google Lunar X PRIZE is to help create excitement and reignite the public's interest in space exploration," said Kevin Myrick, SYNERGY MOON Team Leader. "We're working diligently to create and showcase innovative new technologies that will help support humanity's expansion throughout the solar system."

As part of SYNERGY MOON's efforts to raise awareness of their efforts and participation in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, they've organized a variety of global promotional events, including space-themed concerts, art festivals, space-related fashion shows, and breathtaking core technology demonstrations including rocket engine hot firings, suborbital and orbital hardware testflights, and ultimately their X PRIZE lunar missions. These initiatives, along with a youth outreach program, are organized by Nebojsa Stanojevic, Director of the Human Synergy Project and SYNERGY MOON's International Promotion and Productions Coordinator.

To learn more about SYNERGY MOON's sponsors and partner organizations, visit and SYNERGY MOON team updates are available at and Each week, new features will be posted that detail the up-close-and-personal stories of the amazing personalities who make up SYNERGY MOON.

The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million Grand Prize, a $5 million Second Prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the Grand Prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. The Grand Prize is $20 million until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15 million until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation. For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE, please visit

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured the world’s attention when the Burt Rutan-led team, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first private spaceship to win the $10 million ANSARI X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation and its revolution partner BT Global Services are creating prizes in Exploration (Space and Oceans), Life Sciences, Energy & Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as the leading model for fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit

For the uninitiated, check out this promotional video on the X PRIZE competition:

Today's post is for the kids out there. Below is a 7-minute video that shows an animated crab teaching a class on tsunami preparedness. The video was created by the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services with grants from NOAA (via the NTHMP) and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Loyal readers of this blog know that Japan's Kaguya (Selene) Mission has captured some stunning high definition images of the Moon, including video and photos of the Earth rise (partial and full). Never failing to disappoint, Kaguya has snapped another picture of the Earth from the Moon. During the penumbral lunar eclipse on February 10, Kaguya was on the far side of the Moon just as the Sun-Earth-Moon conjunction happened. From the spacecraft's perspective, the Earth came between the Sun and the Moon, leaving only a ring of light because it isn't large enough to cover the entire solar disk. This is the first time the "diamond ring" effect has been observed from the Moon.

In other Kaguya news, the mission has now posted dozens of HD videos on YouTube. Some of these were featured in the National Geographic Channel's program "Direct from the Moon" back in November. The mission is also the subject of a special issue of Science magazine. A summary of the papers in that issue is on the Kaguya website, or you can check out the Science issue itself. Some of the highlights include a new global lunar topographic map with 0.5° spatial resolution and evidence for long-lived farside volcanism.

The question whether liquid water can exist on the surface of Mars may have been answered by the Phoenix Mars Mission. A study by Nilton Renno and 21 coauthors will be presented at the upcoming Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston. Their abstract outlines the thermodynamics why liquid water can exist at the surface under the right conditions and shows a series of images that seem to be water drops on the Phoenix lander.

Regular water cannot exist on the surface of Mars due to the low temperature and atmospheric pressure. If you placed a glass of water on Mars, it would immediately sublimate into the atmosphere and vanish. However, the presence of salts in the water can depress the freezing point temperature and reduce the vapor pressure of the solution. The concentration of salt that produces the lowest freezing temperature is called a eutectic mixture. For some saline solutions, the eutectic can be as low or lower than 200 K (-73 C), which is near the surface temperature during a Martian summer. Renno and his coauthors argue that over many free-thaw cycles, the concentration of salt in solution is driven towards this eutectic value, leading to briny layers a few centimeters beneath the surface.
In the latest episode of Popular Science's podcast Coctail Party Science, Eric Hagerman, author of the article "Wingman," talks about the jet man Yves Rossy and his successful crossing of the English Channel via personal jet pack in September 2008. Click on the last two links in the previous sentence to see my two former blog postings on this exciting new mode of transport. You can listen to the podcast below:

NASA has selected all 40 applicants for the second round of interviews. These people are considered "finalists" and are within the top 1% of all 3,535 applicants. Although I had previously reported that the 40 would interview in two groups of 20, there are actually four groups of 10 instead. The first two groups have already completed their second interviews with NASA over the past two weeks, and the remaining two groups are set to be at JSC the weeks of February 22 and March 8.

The second interview week contains of a series in-depth medical exams such as a colonoscopy, MRI, and full blood work. Since this year's candidates are likely to serve long-duration missions on the ISS, there may be more medical tests this year compared to past selections.

I don't know exactly what else transpires during the second interview week, but I'm sure there is further psychological testing and a second sit-down "interview" with the selection board.

Good luck to the finalists who made it this far!

Regular readers of this blog know that I often reference the Astronaut Hopefuls (aka: AsHos) group. Dating back to 1993, the original AsHos website is a great source of historical information on NASA's previous paper-based rolling astronaut application process that ended in 2002. For the past seven years, the AsHos group has been more active on its Yahoo! Groups website, which now boasts 1144 members. This is where astronaut applicants have shared their experiences throughout the 2003-4 and 2008-9 application processes.

With the establishment of a new AsHos Facebook group page, perhaps another era of social networking is dawning for the the Astronaut Hopefuls group. It's a closed group, so only serious astronaut hopefuls are presumably allowed to join. There is another Facebook group called "I Wish I Was an Astronaut" which has an open join policy and correspondingly has a wider range of seriousness among its members.

What is the future for AsHos and social networking? I don't know, but I'm sure it'll be fun and interesting. NASA already has many presences in the major social networking outlets, so it wouldn't be much of a stretch for someone in the Selection Office to tap into these new technologies to keep applicants and the public at large more in touch throughout the selection process.

A couple of weeks ago, Google released a major update to it's popular Google Earth software. The upgrade to version 5.0 is a must for Google Earth fans because it boasts some exciting new features that allow you to explore the Earth's oceans or Mars in 3D. In addition to regular Earth mode and the alternative Sky mode, there is now a new Mars mode, which goes way beyond Google's previous foray into displaying Mars imagery.

Google Ocean

Previously, Google Earth imagery was very crude for the 2/3 of the Earth's surface that is covered by water. Now Google Earth includes global bathymetric data and labels for underwater features like seamounts, ridges, trenches, reefs, and geographic boundaries of marine areas. The underwater relief is clearly visible from a far off view of the planet's surface, but the really cool features start when you zoom in. Now the program allows users to dive beneath the ocean surface and explore the aquatic world below.
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