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Reaching for the moon: Interview with Robert Richards

  • Story Highlights
  • Robert Richards is CEO of Odyssey Moon Ltd, a lunar enterprise
  • Odyssey Moon was the first team to enter the Google Lunar X Prize
  • Richards believes the moon holds commercial, resource potential for Earth
  • Richards says international collaboration is key to lunar exploration
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(CNN) -- Robert Richards is CEO of Odyssey Moon Ltd, the first contenders for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million prize fund for the first commercial team to land a craft on the moon and send back video footage.

Bob Richards, CEO of Odyssey Moon

CNN spoke to him about his inspiration, his career and the potential of the moon as a resource for Earth.

CNN: Hi Bob. Tell us about Odyssey Moon.

Bob Richards: Odyssey Moon is a lunar enterprise based on the Isle of Man [in Britain] that was formed to try to pursue commercial ventures on the moon. We are also the first contenders for the Google Lunar X Prize.

CNN: What's the aim of the prize?

Bob Richards: The Google Lunar X Prize is an ambitious undertaking. It calls for a private team -- privately funded with no more than 10 percent of government funding -- to finance and land a robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon, take moon casts -- high definition video -- of both the landing and from 500 meters away. So we have to figure out not only a way to land but a way to traverse the lunar landscape for 500 meters. The first team to do that will win $20 million.

CNN: $20 million might sound like a lot of money, but surely it's not enough to get to the moon?

Bob Richards: The Google Lunar X Prize is designed as a prize that will incentivize people to try it. But it's by no means the amount of money that you need to win the prize. Going to the moon is a very expensive endeavor: it will likely cost a multiple of that.

CNN: What about the other teams?

Bob Richards: The Google Lunar X Prize, like all the other X Prizes, involves a large variety of teams that come together from all over the world to compete for a certain dream. These teams have a wide variety of experience of expertise and backgrounds. This is what X Prize is all about: you don't know where the next innovation is going to come from.

Sooner or later these teams usually converge in to one series of maybe three or four teams that ultimately have the capacity to win the prize.

CNN: What happens if you don't win the prize?

Bob Richards: The Google Lunar X Prize is definitely a catalyst for us. But we are absolutely committed to an enduring presence on the moon. If we don't win the prize we will certainly cheer those who do and we will continue with our efforts to provide a permanent, established mechanism for humanity to reach the moon in a very frequent and cost-effective way.

CNN: Shouldn't the money that we invest in space travel be invested in fixing the problems on Earth?

Bob Richards: Space exploration is so important to our future: it allows us to understand our planet Earth. For instance, we wouldn't know about global warming or the mechanisms that drive it if it wasn't for the space program giving us new vantage points. We learn about how the slightest little modification in how we treat Earth can severely impact how it treats us.

The earth is an island and every island's society understands that you have to be very conservative about the resources you have. That's very prudent, but in order to support your expanding civilization you also need to look outside the shores of your island in order to bring in the resources and energy necessary.

CNN: What business opportunity does the moon offers?

Bob Richards: Going back to the moon to me is about expanding humanity's economic sphere. There's a wealth of resources there and knowledge to be gained. By expanding the economic sphere of Earth out towards the moon we're going to find ways for business to contribute to the exploration of space.

CNN: What role will collaboration play in space exploration?

Bob Richards: Space by its nature is an international endeavor; it's a challenge to the species. There's no way you can do it without each other, because of the cost and the nature of it. It's a new chance for us to mature as a species. As we move out into space we'll have to do so together.

CNN: Will we do it sensibly?

Bob Richards: I'm an eternal optimist. I believe that we have at least a 51% chance of success.

We have an incredible challenge right now because we are reaching catastrophic times. In the coming decades, technological change and the pressures on our civilization will reach the point of stress if we don't embrace prudent decisions here on Earth -- of conservation and rational resource utilization, together with the expansion of our economic sphere to extra-terrestrial resources. If we can't do that responsibly as a species, we'll be doomed. There is no choice.

CNN: Do you think that you will go to the moon?

Bob Richards: When I was young I used to dream, maybe I'll go to space one day: wouldn't that be cool? Today I know I'm going to space. There's no question about that. Now I'm pondering if I'm going to go to the moon: there just might be a possibility that I'll do that.

CNN: Cast your mind ahead to 2020. What kind of role do you expect the moon to be playing in the lives of people in 2020?

Bob Richards: In 2020 the moon is going to be part of our human society, of our economic sphere. Human beings will be there. I think the private sector will outpace governments for a while, but the governments will be working in concert and we will be establishing a moon base, prospecting for resources, we'll be trying to understand how we can utilize the moon for the benefit of life on Earth.

We'll also be utilizing the moon as a platform for launching ourselves for other adventures, to planets like Mars and beyond. That will be our world in 2020.

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CNN: After the Google Lunar X Prize, what comes next?

Bob Richards: The Google X Prize has certainly captivated my enthusiasm and interest and I would certainly like to win that. I would also like to establish the first ongoing business on the moon. But if somebody was going to offer an X Prize for Mars, I'd be going for that ...

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