Essential Pittsburgh
2:50 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Penn State's Moon Shot Looks For Crowdsource Funding

Computer generated image of Penn State's Lunar Lion Lander in Space
Computer generated image of Penn State's Lunar Lion Lander in Space
Credit Penn State University Lunar Lion

A crew at Penn State is hoping to use crowd funding to help get a rocket to the moon. 

The team is working on grabbing the Google Lunar Xprize which is offering more than $40 million dollars in prizes to anyone who can safely land a craft on the moon, travel 500 meters above, below, or on the Lunar surface, and send two “Mooncasts” back to Earth. Half of the money will go to the first successful mission, but there are other milestone accomplishments that can free up some funding.

The team at Penn State, known as Lunar Lion, is looking to keep its effort on track by raising $406,536 through the crowd funding site rockethub.com.

The unusual goal is actually the average distance between the earth and the moon.

In the first five days of the fundraising effort, nearly 10 percent of the goal has been raised. The funding request will remain open until Feb. 25.

Lunar Lion Team Leader Michael Paul said the program would like to be the first team to win, but there is a much larger goal in mind.

“We see the Google Lunar Xprize as a way to propel Penn State into serving the nation in a new way,” he said.

Paul sees private investment as the future of space exploration, and he expects Penn State to be the "go to research and education center for the growing private space industry."

Paul points to the way the Apollo Mission sparked imagination and interest in science and technology careers as a model for how the Lunar Xprize can inspire the world.

“We know from the energy, the enthusiasm and the ambition of the students that are on this team right now, and the enthusiasm that we see from students that want to join this team, that we are already seeing that inspiration,” Paul said.

Currently there are about 80 Penn State Students involved in the effort.  Paul said about 25 percent of them are graduate students and the rest are under grads from disciplines as varied as electrical engineers, marketing students and theater arts majors. 

Most of the work is done by volunteers but some of the students are receiving class credit and other are getting research stipends.

Donations have come into the Rockethub.com effort from as far off as Australia and New Zealand.