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The Rocket City Space Pioneers' Lander to be Named "Spirit of Alabama"

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Pelham, AL (March 9, 2012) – “Spirit of Alabama” will be the name of the Alabama-based Rocket City Space Pioneers’ (RCSP’s) lunar lander competing in the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE thanks to some help from Karen McDonald’s fourth-grade class at Valley Intermediate School. The students won the team’s “Name the Lander” contest, earning them a trip to Space Camp™ in Huntsville and their teacher a $500 gift card for classroom supplies. The surprise announcement was made to the class yesterday.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE, the largest incentivized competition offered to date, challenges space professionals and engineers from across the globe to build and launch to the moon a privately funded spacecraft capable of completing a series of exploration and transmission tasks. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is one of three active competitions from the X PRIZE Foundation, the leading nonprofit organization for creating and managing large-scale, global incentivized competitions.

The team partnered with Alabama Tourism and the Alabama Department of Education to enlist the assistance of fourth graders from across the state of Alabama to name its lander. Thousands of students in
schools from as far south as Fairhope to as far north as Huntsville participated in the competition.

“We were excited to hear that the ‘Spirit of Alabama’ was selected as the name of the lunar lander. We think it will represent our great state well in the competition,” said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “Tourism is proud to have been a part of the process in working with the ‘name the lander’ team.

“We are excited about our lander’s name,” said Tim Pickens, RCSP team leader. “The word ‘spirit’ represents the collective enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication of our Alabama team and our state relative to our going to the Moon to win this Google Lunar X PRIZE.”

Pickens added, “Our team name, ‘The Rocket City Space Pioneers,’ captures the spirit of Huntsville, but naming our lander ‘Spirit of Alabama’ will excite the entire state about our endeavor.”

The contest organizers announced the details of the contest during a January 31st press conference at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center with special guest speakers Alabama Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tommy Bice, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski, Dynetics President Tom Baumbach and Alabama Tourism Communications Director Edith Parten.

Dr. Deborah Barnhart, U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO, welcomed the guests; Homer Hickam, author, served as master of ceremonies; and Tim Pickens, RCSP team leader, explained the team’s mission and showed videos of work performed by the Huntsville Center for Technology, the Huntsville high school which is also an RCSP team member. Videos of the event may be viewed at RCSP’s YouTube channel, “RCSpacePioneers.”

RCSP offered a lesson plan provided by Space Camp and fun activity sheets the teachers could use in conjunction with the contest.

“We want to excite students about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),” said Pickens. “We had an opportunity to visit a few schools and talk with the students about our mission. We hope to inspire them in some way through our educational outreach efforts.”

RCSP is led by Huntsville-based Dynetics and comprised of businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organizations. Headquartered in Huntsville, the team’s members are all either based in Alabama or have a presence in the state. The Rocket City group is among 26 teams from all over the world that are registered in the competition.

The team is developing a low-cost lunar lander/rover system for conducting commercial and scientific missions on the Moon and potentially other planetary bodies. The lander/rover system is capable of
making a soft landing on a planetary body and deploying a rover.

For more information about the Rocket City Space Pioneers, go to

The Rocket City Space Pioneers are led by Huntsville-based company Dynetics and consist of team members Teledyne Brown Engineering, Andrews Space, Spaceflight Services, Draper Laboratory, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation (VCSI), Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Moog, Analytical Mechanics Associates (AMA) and the Huntsville Center for

Dynetics delivers the “Power of Solutions” to government and commercial customers in the areas of intelligence, missiles, aviation, cyber and space. Based in Huntsville, Ala., with offices throughout the United States, Dynetics is a mid-tier company that provides complete lifecycle analysis, engineering and hardware solutions to support customer missions. For more information visit

Generously funded by Google, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a privately-funded team must successfully place a robot on the Moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters (1/3 of a mile) and transmits high definition video and images back to Earth. The first team to do so will claim a $20 million Grand Prize, while the second team will earn a $5 million Prize. Teams are also eligible to win a $1 million award for stimulating diversity in the field of space exploration and as much as $4 million in bonus prizes for accomplishing additional technical tasks such as moving ten times as far, surviving the frigid lunar night, or visiting the site of a previous lunar mission. To date, more than 20 teams from a dozen countries around the world have registered to compete for the prize. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is available to be claimed until the end of the year 2015. For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE, visit

Founded in 1995, the X PRIZE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the leading organization solving the world’s Grand Challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in research and development worth far more than the prize itself. The organization motivates and inspires brilliant innovators from all disciplines to leverage their intellectual and financial capital for the benefit of humanity. The X PRIZE Foundation conducts competitions in four Prize Groups: Education & Global Development; Energy & Environment; Life Sciences; and Exploration. Prizes won include the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private, suborbital space flight; the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE for creating safe, affordable, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPGe (energy equivalent); the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X CHALLENGE for advanced rocket development; and the $1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE for highly effective, ocean surface oil spill cleanup methods. Active prizes include the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, the $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Medco, and the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE. For more information, go to

Google’s innovative search technologies connect millions of people around the world with information every day. Founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google today is a top web property in all major global markets. Google’s targeted advertising program provides businesses of all sizes with measurable results, while enhancing the overall web experience for users. Google is headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. For more information, visit

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Janet Felts
Dynetics 256-713-5439
[email protected]

Edith Parten
Alabama Tourism Department 334-242-4537
[email protected]

Malissa Valdes-Hubert
Alabama Department of Education 334-242-9952
[email protected]

Cindy Warner
Shelby County School System 205-682-7084
[email protected]

Alan Zack
X PRIZE Foundation 310-741-4904
[email protected]