BTN LiveBIG: PSU's Lunar Lion aiming for the moon

How many times have educators told their students to “shoot for the moon?”

At Penn State, a select group of students are doing just that.

Led by former NASA engineer Michael Paul, the students are building a lunar spacecraft that will be sent to the moon, and once there, will be able to move 500 meters.

If they accomplish this task, and they do so in a manner deemed superior to those of 18 other teams pursuing the same goal, they could earn $30 million.

That’s right – students at Penn State are building a lunar landing module that could earn $30 million.

The funds are from the Google Lunar X prize, which challenges private groups to design a lunar craft that can land safely on the moon, and then once there, move in any direction 500 meters.

The Penn State team is building what they are calling the Lunar Lion.

The project is in its third year, which began as a result of Paul’s continued efforts to get the University to allow him to do something related to space exploration. The Penn State team is competing against 18 privately funded teams that are not associated with any school. When there is a prize of $30 million, you can imagine the efforts that are being made privately.

In order to compete, the team is trying to raise $400,000 by February 24 to pay for the materials needed to build the engine on the lander, and to be able to test it. They also need funds to pay for test site fees and to compensate students, facility and engineers for their time.

To do this, they’re using the crowdfunding site www.rockethub.com, where faculty and students working on the project made the following video explaining how anyone can be part of their achievement. They have a page specifically for the project.

“If you donate a certain amount of money, you can have your name, or a quote, engraved on the spacecraft,’’ said student Amelia Batcha.

As of Feb. 7, the team had raised over $80,000, and they are planning more fund-raising efforts to reach their goal.

Because this task started three years ago and is not scheduled for completion until 2015, many students have come and gone through the program. Many contributors have already graduated from Penn State. Paul has worked to make sure that a constant stream of underclassmen are involved and brought up to speed on the project so they can keep the Lunar Lion on schedule.

The students are intellectually capable of accomplishing this goal and, at the same time, amazed that they are doing it.

“This whole scenario is surreal to me,’’ said Penn State vice president of research Neil Sharkey.

BTN profiled the Lunar Lion a few years ago when the project got off the ground.

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