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X Prize Cup Contestant to Shoot for Faux Moon

October 20, 2006|John Johnson Jr. | Times Staff Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Video game magnate-turned-space entrepreneur John Carmack predicted he would win at least one of two NASA-sponsored space prizes, following a successful test of his lunar lander model Thursday.

"It went great," Carmack said after the 40-second flight over the southern New Mexico desert.

The unmanned vehicle, which looks like four giant balloons tied together and is powered by liquid oxygen and ethanol, flew over the chaparral-covered landscape at a height of about 50 feet before landing on its side.

Carmack said the vehicle, one of two, named Pixel and Texel, was undamaged.

Carmack, best known as the designer of the computer games "Doom" and "Quake," is scheduled to compete today at Las Cruces International Airport in the X Prize Cup.

The prizes, which total $2.4 million, are designed to foster private investment in next-generation space technology. The prize money has been put up by NASA as part of its Centennial Challenge program.

There are two lunar lander events. The first requires the entrant to fly from one flat pad to another and remain aloft for at least 90 seconds. The first prize for that event is $350,000.

The second event, which carries a $500,000 first prize, is tougher. It requires the vehicle to lift off, fly a predetermined route and land on an uneven faux lunar surface laid out by students at New Mexico State University. The vehicle must stay aloft for three minutes.

Carmack is the only announced contestant in the lunar lander events.

"None of this is really going to the moon," Carmack said. "The real benefit NASA gets if we do this is shaming their contractors," whose budgets run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Carmack estimated he had invested about $2.5 million in his company, Armadillo Aerospace, which is based in Mesquite, Texas.

Two other contests, testing space elevator ideas and technology, are also taking place.

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