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Contest asks kids to craft a lunar rover

The people behind the Google Lunar X Prize are calling on middle-school and high-school children to develop winning ideas for their robotics challenge.

The X Prize Foundation and Google are looking to whiz kids for robot ideas.

Three weeks ago, the L.A.-based prize organization announced the Google Lunar X Prize--a $20 million-plus contest to put a robot on the moon that can rove for at least 500 meters and send visuals back to Earth. As if to add heft to the unveiling, Google and X Prize executives talked about the mission and the future of space exploration while surrounded by throngs of school-aged kids from around Los Angeles.

Photos: Touting the Google Lunar X Prize

Now, the people behind the Google Lunar X Prize are calling on middle-school and high-school kids for winning ideas for the challenge. It's doing this by sponsoring a research and design Web site challenge for kids participating in the Botball Educational Robotics Program, an international robotics series based in Norman, Okla. The contest is called the X Prize Lunar Rover Botball Design Challenge.

The contest calls on teams to build a site that details a conceptual mobile robot lightweight enough to win the Google Lunar X Prize. Of course, the students can't actually win the $20 million first prize for the challenge, which is for private industry teams and must be physically accomplished by 2012 to win the full prize money. But students can win a $1,000 award to travel to the Global Conference on Educational Robotics, to be held next summer. (Winners will be announced on the Botball Web site before the first regional Botball tournament on March 1, 2008.)

"One goal of the Google Lunar X Prize is to engage and encourage this next generation of scientists and explorers. (This competition) will give these students, and their teachers and parents and friends, a direct and personal connection to space exploration," William Pomerantz, X Prize's director of space projects, said in a statement.