Open-Source Crowd Shoots for the Moon

The Google Lunar X Prize offers $20 million dollars for the first team to land a data-transmitting rover on the moon. Team FredNet is taking a Web 2.0 approach — they're shooting for the moon, open source style. Think wikispacerace.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

One team of space dreamers could get $20 million if they can figure out how to get a working data-transmitting rover to the moon. But they have to beat out other teams to get the cash. It is a real-life space-race to win the Google Lunar X prize.

Now, most of the teams going after this have gobs of money, the support of foundation, a squad of engineers, and are likely to spend far more than the value of the prize of the race to even get there. But there's one team out there taking a little bit of a different approach. They're shooting for the moon open-source style. Think wiki space race. They're called Team FredNet. To tell us about their plan, the Fred of FredNet, Fred Bourgeois is here. Hi, Fred.

Mr. FRED BOURGEOIS (Organizer, Team FredNet): Good Morning.

STEWART: Hey, good morning. So first of all, why did you decide to go about this in the open-source way? In that, hey, kids, let's put a rover on the moon.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Well, when I first heard about the prize, it sounded like something that I could do. We weren't having to invent anything new. So it was the kind of thing that I knew all of the parts, and I knew a lot of the people who could do those parts. So I wanted really needed to do was just find a way to find the money. And to do this project and pay all of those people would cost $100 million or something in that neighborhood, which I don't have. So it occurred to me that the goal of the prize is to make space more open, so why not make the whole project open and have an open participation, open-source team that goes for the moon?

STEWART: So who has joined up with so far? Where are they from? How are they qualified? Are they - or maybe they're not qualified. They just have some great idea.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: We have surprisingly got some very qualified people. The first people I contacted were two friends of mine. And I was kind of expecting them to laugh at me, and it turns one of them was involved in the original Apollo lunar lander program.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And you didn't know that?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: And I didn't know that. We'd worked together for years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Where did you work together?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: We worked at a compiler company - we worked at a company doing currency analysis, verifying the currency was printed correctly.

STEWART: And this just never came up? They worked on this project?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOURGEOIS: No.

MARTIN: It's as if I just turned to you one day and I was like, Alison, I've been to the moon. That's cool.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: And after that, I created a Web site, sent a few more emails out, and people started signing up. We got engineers that - basically, word-of- mouth, we found people in Australia who had worked on robotics before. We found people from England that knew the people in Australia who had worked on other components of the system before. We found propulsion engineers also, interestingly, from Australia. We have a lot of people from Australia now. We have people from - the countries I know of - the U.S., Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Romania, Serbia, Denmark, India.

STEWART: That's amazing.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: And I think there's something close to two dozen, maybe a few more countries involved now.

STEWART: Do you have any kids involved?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: We actually have two that I know of. One is a high school student, and he tried to pretend he was in college to make us think he was really qualified. And the other is a 13-year-old. I guess he's in middle school now. And he just joined the forum the other day and said, I'm interested in doing this, I don't know if I have any skills. But I just responded to him and said we'd love to have you on the project because we want kids to learn more about space exploration. And I asked him if he had a robotics club in his school, which he responded that he didn't, but he wanted to start one.

STEWART: That's excellent. Let's talk about your actual plan, what you can tell us. We don't want give away any big secrets. What does your craft look like, and what's the plan to get it into outer space?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Well, it's a four-stage process. The first part of the program is buying a commercial launch from one of the rocketry companies here on earth.

STEWART: Okay, buy launch, number one.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Buy launch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOURGEOIS: That's just got a price tag of six to $10 million on it.

STEWART: Oh, that's it. Okay. You get this for 10 million.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: So if any of your listeners happen to have an extra $6 million lying around, we'd love the contribution.

MARTIN: Rich people, public radio listeners. Rich. Okay. Number two, what's number two?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Number two, we are building what we call a lunar bus. And that will carry our spacecraft from earth orbit to lunar insertion and lunar orbit.

STEWART: All right. Get space bus to lunar orbit. Number three?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Number three, there's a lunar lander, and we have someone working on that part of the project right now. And the lunar lander will carry the rover to the surface of the moon, touch down softly, hopefully learn the Apollo 11 landing site.

STEWART: Okay. Near the Apollo landing site. Number four?

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Number four, the rover comes out of the lander and starts traveling around on the surface of the moon, sending back streaming real-time video.

STEWART: Piece of cake.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Sure.

STEWART: Piece of cake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You're going to get it done, I'm sure.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: We've already got a rover we can drive over the Internet. And we did a demo of that on TV back in December. So we have a rover that's located in Michigan, and we can drive it here in California.

MARTIN: Well, you're on your way. We're routing for you, Fred.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: Well, I'm glad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Fred Bourgeois, the leader of Team FredNet. If you want to help him out, it's an open-source project. You have six to $10 million hanging around...

MARTIN: There are some other teams involved too, not just FredNet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Hey, Fred. Good luck to you.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: But they aren't as much fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Fred, thanks a lot.

Mr. BOURGEOIS: You're welcome.

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