Skyrockets In Flight, Google to the Moon?

In order to accurately gather the appropriate momentum and create the most relevant mood for reading this week’s column, please take a moment to tune your iPod to REM’s “Man on the Moon” and place it on an endless loop.

Thank you.

Last week, Google announced it wants to be the first Moon landing sponsor for the private sector. The X Prize Foundation is officially driving the Moon race competition and, in collaboration with Google, is offering $30 million dollars to the first “team” that can land on the Moon and transmit video back. James Cameron (who endorsed the contest) thinks it’s a good idea, so it must be a good idea.

Has NASA failed us? Is the dotcom world and subsequent Google culture going to save Earth from certain disaster by giving our government’s bureaucracy a good kick in the butt? Anything is possible, but with all the jubilation and back slapping going on, I have some additional thoughts I would submit for your review.

Realistic Goals

At first glance, this contest seems like a really good idea. There are enough people working to better the Web, the environment, and working to end the war on just about everything. It’s time to give back to the next generation of humans.

We have already given them massive pollution and dependence on fossil fuels, along with Internet-based information guides (aka search engines) that have created a whole new type of dependence. The new dependence is in relying on the Web for information, thereby eliminating the need for deductive reasoning and progressive learning.

Here’s my other problem with this: Humans can’t even make a movie about going to the Moon for $30 million dollars. 1998’s Michael Bay space blockbuster, “Armageddon,” was a pricey $140 million, and in the movie, the astronauts didn’t even stop at the Moon, they flew right around it. Also in 1998, the mini-series, “From the Earth to the Moon,” arrived on the scene for an estimated $68 million.

Lunatics with rockets

There are just about enough wack-jobs in the world with explosives. Not to worry though, the government will have some say in the launch proceedings. And who do you think is going to pay said government officials? James Cameron? Google?

So, your tax dollars will be at work determining just who can have the appropriate permits and facilities to build very large, exploding space vehicles made with the most heavily regulated (and often scarce) materials on planet Earth. Way to fast-track saving the planet.

Cameron knows a good investment when he sees one and so does Google. The epic movie about sinking a very large boat cost a mere $200 million and has grossed over $1.8 billion in its lifetime. Google ended last year with over $11 billion in the bank, and the Google founders had slightly less than $1.1 million when they started.

Back on the earthly Internet, we can’t even agree on the definition of a click. Everyone and his/her uncle are at war over some kind of trademark violation, and privacy is a forgotten dream for everyone.

Closer to Home

I like dreaming just as much as the rest of them, so in the spirit of private industry cutting through the clutter on the Web and elsewhere, I would like to announce a series of contests that are similar to the financial scale (proportionately) of Google’s Moon race. The rewards may not seem great, but it’s the idea that counts, right?

  • $20.17 to the person who builds a “walking time” feature into Google Maps for New York and other walking cities. I mean seriously, why not? If you are really going to go green, stop calculating driving times altogether.
  • $38.93 to the person who figures out how to turn Chilean sea bass into a regulated harvest, renewable resource. These fish (not actually a bass or necessarily Chilean) can live more than 50 years and weigh more than 200 pounds. By the time we get to the Moon to collect silicon, only one generation of Chilean sea bass (aka Patagonian tooth fish) will have lived.
  • $17.35 to the guy who talks Ali-Baba out of enabling shark fin trade commerce. One really neat way to kill off a species is by harvesting them en masse. I guess we may never know why sharks are much less prone to cancer.
  • $43.02 to the person with the brainiac plan that can figure out how to stop Windows Vista from crashing my Outlook. $2.16 bonus if said person can pull it off on my birthday.
  • $12.98 to the next second-tier search engine that hires a self-inflated, ego-driven ad agency to create a buzz campaign that ultimately fails to increase search market share.

Fish in an Oil Drum

James Cameron actually referred to this project as “Moon 2.0” in his video endorsement (YouTube), and at that moment, I could actually hear the preverbal shark jumping over the suffix, “anything 2.0.”

Listen, I get the point. Encouraging people to think beyond themselves is a good thing. Maybe we do need to head to the Moon to begin exploiting its resources. Lots of people think we can harvest solar energy and silicon.

Heck, maybe we can even think of a way to create a launching platform to other planets. Then, you can come home and complain about how Space JetBlue kept you locked in a shuttlecraft for 16 hours with no food or water.

At the end of the day, I just wish the more local problems got as much celebrity attention and press as a search engine deciding its time to go back to the Moon. For that matter, I wish the heroes flying for NASA and working to get us there got half the fanfare of some contest that requires winning contestants to transmit a video of their accomplishment to Google.

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