Transferring from online books to interplanetary space travel is quite the career change, but that is exactly what Google Books alum Jimi Crawford is doing. Crawford used to work as an engineering chief for the Mountain View tech giant, but he recently joined private space company Moon Express, where he will be tasked with developing robotic systems to transport equipment to and from the moon for private companies.
Private space companies are currently in charge of ferrying personnel and supplies to the International Space Station, but now it looks like the scheme is to be extended to the moon. Moon Express is one such company and as its Chief Technology Officer and software architect, Crawford will be responsible for the mission-critical programmes that guide the craft’s trip to the Moon.
Currently Moon Express is one of 25 businesses competing in Google’s Lunar X Prize, which is challenging private companies to make a successful Moon trip. In order to win the prize, a craft has to make it to the Moon, “travel up to 500m over the surface and send back data and images to Earth. The challenge runs until the end of 2015, and the first one to the Moon will scoop a $20m grand prize.”
In the 1970s, NASA used massive Saturn V rocket boosters (which burned 5.6 million pounds of propellant) to break orbit, but Moon Express will be looking to use something smaller, greener and cheaper. As Moon Express has plans to take its Moon transport beyond the Google Prize by setting up a sort of Moon-ferry service that would take payloads to the Moon for government and commercial companies, there will be a focus on cost-efficiency.
Pre-Google, Crawford worked on astro-robotics at the Autonomy and Robotics program at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, so space travel isn’t exactly new to him. He dropped that for enterprise software after four years, but has obviously felt the pull of the final frontier again.
“We’re trying to set up a really strong partnership with Ames and with other NASA centers to bring in space expertise,but set up the culture to be as much as possible a Silicon Valley culture, in terms of willingness to take reasonable amounts of risk, the pace and the heartbeat of the organization, being reasonable about processes and also doing VC [venture capital] funding,” said Crawford to Space.com. ”Everybody that creates a startup in Silicon Valley, they all try to say they’re going to change the world. Here, it’s just so completely obvious.”