A few weeks ago, Google released an update to their popular mapping program Google Earth that includes the component called Sky. Sky uses stellar maps provided by several partners, including the NASA/Space Telescope Institute, to display images of the nighttime sky over user's locations, or anywhere else they may be interested in.
Yesterday, Google made another foray into the universe by announcing the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Entrants will compete to be the first to successfully develop and land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon, and win a $30M purse. The robot will also have a few missions to complete and be able to send data and images back to Earth.
According to a Gallup Poll from last year, at least 60% of Americans indicated they were still interested in funding space exploration at the current level or more, and almost 70% thought that the benefits of space flight outweigh the risks, despite the relatively recent shuttle accident involving the Columbia.
However, with most of our attention focused on terrorism, war, and domestic politics, it is unlikely that there is enough political pressure on the government or private sectors to spend money on developing better and safer means of space exploration.
It is no surprise that the X Prize Foundation is continuing to promote competitions that increase the public's interest in space exploration, but it is surprising to see Google's involvement. Given broad reach of the search engine company, it may just be one more step down the path towards Googlezon.