Mission to the Moon

By Mallory Lane

Published 02/05 2014 05:16PM

Updated 02/05 2014 06:24PM

PENN STATE, UNIVERSITY PARK - Could Penn State be the first private entity to land a spacecraft on the moon?

The Lunar Lion Team at Penn State is hoping to make it happen.

The project is part of a national competition, sponsored by the Google X PRIZE Foundation. The winners will take home a $20 million grant from Google.

December 19, 2015 is the official launch date for the Lunar Lion. This group of students have worked for the past three years on experiments that will make this mission possible.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would be working on a spacecraft that is going to land on the moon as an undergrad," Penn State Junior Aerospace Engineering major, Patrick Gorski, said.

It's a dream Gorski can now call a reality.

"I do my classes for the day, when that's done, I usually go to our lab for at least four or five hours a day," he said. "It's pretty much a 24/7 schedule."

Gorski is an Aerospace Engineering major at Penn State. He's part of the Lunar Lion Team. His task? To build the spacecraft.

"If you look at truss systems on bridges, if you can visualize that in an octagon form, that's essentially what our version of the spacecraft looks like right now," Gorski said.

It's not as easy as he makes it sound and it's not just about sending this craft to the moon, either.

"We have to land it there, return high definition video and images," Michael Paul said. "Then it has to take off and fly 500 meters and land at another site."

Paul is the Lunar Lion Team Leader. For the past three years, he's helped assemble a team of about 80 students, like Gorski, who are working together on this mission to make Penn State the first private entity to land on the moon.

Students from all different walks of life are taking part, from scientists to theater majors, even athletes.

"I'm not really into science that much," Penn State football player and Lunar Lion Team member, Johnathan Warner, said. "I just like to inform people about what's going on. I basically try to tell them that this is a really big deal."

"A lot of people say it's just a bunch of students making this, they can't really be doing that good," Penn State Junior Aerospace Engineering major, Alwin Paul, said. "We're not just a bunch of students doing this, we're a humongous research university doing this."

Paul loves telling friends and family about his latest endeavors.

"They're very proud to have someone like this in their family and they're like, wow, this kid is really cool," he said.

For now, Paul wants to work with propulsion systems to help launch vehicles in the space industry. He says an opportunity to work on the Lunar Lion Team is opening a lot of doors.

"We learn so much more than we would just out of our coursework," he said. "To say that before you graduated college, before you got any degree, you helped land the first private spacecraft on the moon, that's just amazing."

The total cost of this mission to the moon is about $60 million. Group leaders say about $20 million need to be secured through both individual and crowdfunding efforts. So far, they have about $2.5 million.

"The Apollo generation of engineers, they proved what Earth can do. When the novelty wore off from that, it was kind of, yes we can do this, is it work the cost? I view my generation of what we're doing now of say yes, we can do what they did and we can do it for a fraction of the price," Gorski said. "That is going to reignite the love of space and that's definitely something I want to be a part of."

The Lunar Lion Project is officially partnered with the NASA Johnson Space Center through a space act agreement to help with the project. There are also a lot of funding efforts taking place, including a chance for you to send a message to space.

To learn how you can donate to the project and what you can do to make your mark on the moon, visit the Lunar Lion website.

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