On your way to the moon, you must carry the DNA of every species on earth and cryogenically preserve it. Since the moon has basically no atmosphere, these species will last for a long time.”
Even today, Sheelika Ravishankar, the people lead at Team Indus—the only Indian team in the race for the Google Lunar X Prize which requires contestants to send a spacecraft to the moon—excitedly recalls the details of that email which she “received from a kid, a couple of years back”.
Ravishankar narrated a similar incident--about Team Indus receiving an email from the advisor of an all-girls’ school in Hawaii.
“He wrote that email on behalf of two girls from his school who wanted Team Indus to take the dust-resistant shield they had developed along with us, when we land on the moon,” she recounts fondly.
Experiences such as these prompted Team Indus, part of a Bengaluru-based aerospace start-up Axiom Research Labs, to formally invite youngsters to develop projects that Team Indus could take on board and eventually use when it lands its spacecraft on the Moon in 2017.
The result of this thought process was Lab2Moon—a competition for youngsters between the ages of 14 and 25 who have to design and construct a project that will help build sustainability on the moon.
Registrations opened on 26 June this year. Applicants need to write a 300-word overview of their project, share drawings and upload a two-minute video explaining why it should go to the moon.
The last date for registration was 20 August but due to the popularity of the contest, the deadline was extended to 10 September.
“Kids aged 10 and 11 also began writing to us, protesting that the cut-off age was 14, so we now have revised the criteria to below 25 years of age”, Ravishankar said in an interview, adding, “We expect more fascinating and imaginative ideas to flow in.”
The jury will shortlist 20 projects by 15 September.
These teams will then develop a working prototype by the end of the year. In February 2017, shortlisted teams will be flown to Bengaluru to showcase their projects to a jury. The winner will be declared on 14 February.
More than 200 teams from over 50 cities across 10 countries, including Germany, Italy, Peru, Mexico and Singapore, have signed up to send their projects to the moon.
Team Indus has received close to 400 project write-ups from over 12 countries till date, of which “70%-80% are from India”.
Team Indus is excited about landing the spacecraft on the moon.
The aim of the Lunar X contest, announced in 2007, is to design a rover that will land on the moon, travel 500 meters on its surface and send images and data back to earth by 31 December, 2017.
If they succeed, Team Indus, which has already won a $1 million milestone prize for its landing technology and has over 85 engineers and 15 former Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientists on board, will be the first non-governmental agency to fly to the moon since 1976.
The jury for Lab2Moon comprises internationally-renowned scientists and technologists, including K. Kasturirangan, former chairman of Isro, who will shortlist 20 teams that will need to develop a working prototype by January and showcase it to them.
Team Indus has added Alain Bensoussan, former president of Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales (CNES—the French Space Agency) and former chairman of council, ESA (European Space Agency) and Joe Pelton, former dean of the International Space University (ISU) and director emeritus, Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute (SACRI) at George Washington University, as jury members.
Explaining his reason for accepting the invitation to be a jury member, Kasturirangan said in a 24 August press statement, “Lab2Moon has the potential to push thinking about interplanetary life for humans to a whole new level. The next step in human evolution is finding ways to live in space and I am looking forward to seeing some great ideas for experiments which will enable that.”
Ravishankar concluded: “Man is an explorer. We have conquered sea, land, air. Space is the final frontier.”