Over three decades after humanity last put a representative on the Moon, a new era in space exploration begins today, September 13, in Los Angeles as the Google Lunar XPrize launches with $30,000,000 in prizes for the first private group to successfully put a robotic rover on the moon. Enthusiasts have long dreamed of humanity reaching the Moon and, after that, the stars; the hope is that this XPrize will encourage research around the world that will make space exploration cost-effective to make that dream a realistic one.
This is a particularly exciting time for teachers because the Google Lunar XPrize has made space education a high priority. The team at the Lunar Xprize has prepared free learning guides, videos and other resources to help stimulate student interest not only in space but in math, science and technology as well. You can find these materials by searching on Google for "Google Lunar XPrize" or going to www.google.com/educators.
As a long time teacher at Palo Alto High in Palo Alto, California, I have been concerned about what I see as an anti-science trend in the schools. Twenty years ago, Palo Alto High School had five sections of Advanced Placement BC Calculus. These days, there only one to two sections per year. Across the country, fewer students are interested in studying science today than ten years ago.
Students who are interested in math and science become innovators who improve humanity's lot -- we need more of them, not less. I hope this new and generous XPrize will motivate students all over the world to dream of going beyond it, and I'm excited about the prospect of having more tools to help in that endeavour. Maybe this is why Google loves space so much: because space research and exploration will give the next generation a reason to dream of the stars, and this generation the tools to help them do that.