Search engine Google is offering more than $35 million prize money for companies to land a robot camera on the moon and send back high-resolution photos and data.
It has launched a new site called Google Moon and hopes the prize will encourage what it calls a 'global private race to the moon'.
Google hopes private companies can develop simpler technology than the equipment used by big space agencies such as NASA.
Google is sponsoring a contest to see which private group can be the first to land a robot on the moon and send images back to earth. It says the high-resolution "mooncast" should contain panoramic shots of the lunar surface, self portraits of the robotic rover, and the first lunar e-mail.
Explaining why the company is backing what is being called the Lunar X Prize, an executive wrote that Google thinks space is "cool", adding space exploration has led to such breakthroughs as "ablative heat shields, asteroid mining ... and Tang" -- that powdered orange juice substitute popularized by astronauts in the 1960s.
Contestants have until 2012 to complete the expedition and can earn a $5 million bonus for finding such things as water and stuff left behind by earlier moon missions.
If there is no winner, the prize will drop to 15 million until 2014.
The X Prize Foundation will run the moon challenge. The nonprofit group is best known for hosting the Ansari X Prize contest, which resulted in the first manned, private spaceflight in 2004.
The U.S. space agency NASA has recently announced it is working toward a new moon landing, after decades of focus on other projects.