Lunar Lion team leader gives mission update to trustees


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's Moon mission is 25 months away, but in the meantime the University is creating a new paradigm in space research and exploration, according to the Lunar Lion team leader.

Michael Paul, who also is the director of space systems initiatives at the Applied Research Laboratory, gave an update today (Nov. 22) on Lunar Lion to the University Board of Trustees. Paul said the "uSpace" paradigm represents a new program model, positioning the University as a leader in space research and exploration through partnerships with industry, contributions from philanthropists and government contracts. The development, Paul said, is mirroring the overall state of the space industry, which is seeing entrepreneurial growth driven by business leaders and philanthropists.

Lunar Lion is the only university-led team competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, which offers a $20 million prize to the first privately funded team to put an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface that can traverse at least 500 meters and return high-definition video and imagery to Earth. A launch is slated for July 2015. The Lunar Lion team has just paid the launch reservation fee.

Neil Sharkey, interim vice president for Research, introduced Paul and applauded the vision and work of the Lunar Team. He encouraged everyone to follow the team's progress at http://lunarlion.psu.edu and consider donating to the mission.

"I've been in the position for almost four months now," said Sharkey, "and without doubt, the most rewarding and enjoyable aspect of the job is that it regularly affords me the opportunity to examine first-hand the amazing inspirational work being done across our campuses, work that truly makes a difference in the lives of so many. But nowhere in my travels am I more inspired than when visiting with Michael Paul and his Lunar Lion team."

The Lunar Lion program consists of more than 80 Penn State students and 12 researchers, spanning six colleges and four campuses. The team has developed relationships with several industry partners, including a start-up rocket-powered vehicle maker, an established rocket engine company and a leading space systems engineering firm. Lunar Lion will announce these partnerships once the final terms of agreements have been finalized. In addition, the Lunar Lion team has built new partnerships with NASA for systems engineering and rocket engine development and testing.

The Lunar Lion mission is expected to cost $60.5 million. The team has already secured the first $2.5 million in support. The program aims to collect an additional $20 million from individual contributions, and donations can be made at the team's website.

Additional funding will be provided by contributions from sponsors and corporate partners as well as from existing University assets.

"Penn State's mission to the Moon will be a historic event, marking a turning point in the space age," said Paul. "Penn State's best qualities are on display and through the Lunar Lion are already having an impact through the students that it has inspired. The students on the team are becoming the trailblazers that will lead the space industry and related fields for decades to come. Never mind all the talk of a 'Sputnik moment' for the country -- the Lunar Lion is an 'Apollo moment' for Penn State and for the country."

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