Google and the X Prize Foundation announce their partnership in sponsoring the Lunar X Prize.

Courtesy Google

According to its corporate mission statement, Google is a search engine company pursuing the lofty goal of organizing the world's information [source: Google]. It's famous for fostering innovation in computer programming. The Googleplex, Google's corporate headquarters, reflects the company's values by providing employees a technologically advanced workplace designed with collaboration in mind. And now, Google is expanding its presence beyond Earth itself: Google is going to the moon. To understand how and why Google is doing this, let's take a quick look at past explorations.

On Jan. 2, 1959, the Luna 1 spacecraft launched from the then-Soviet Union. It escaped Earth's gravity and passed by the moon. Along the way, it used several instruments to collect measurements on its journey. Among the data sent back to Earth was the revelation that the moon has no magnetic field. Luna 1's launch marked the beginning of mankind's attempts to study the moon through space travel.

Ten years later, the Apollo 11 spacecraft touched down on the moon's surface. This marked the first time humans set foot on the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the moon's surface, conducted experiments and collected samples of lunar material.

Over the next several decades, there would be more missions -- manned and unmanned -- to the moon. Gradually, people began to look beyond the moon to other bodies in our solar system. Interest in lunar exploration began to fade. But in 2006, NASA announced a new plan to send astronauts to the moon again by 2020 [source: NASA]. As a result, interest in the lunar landscape is on the rise.

This brings us to Google, a company that prides itself on being at the forefront of gathering and organizing information. Google is sponsoring a competition called the Lunar X Prize. The competition is open to privately funded groups. The groups are charged with a task that's easy to describe, but very hard to achieve. They must launch a vehicle that can journey to the moon, land safely on its surface and deploy a mobile robotic device. The winner could receive more than $20 million. Several teams have already joined the competition. The race is on!

How do teams qualify to enter the Lunar X Prize competition? Keep reading to find out.