Since my first article about the ‘Puli To The Moon’ project on Hungarian Success Stories in January, the project team led by Dr. Tibor Pacher has been very busy with further developing the rover named Puli and preparing it for a successful landing on the Moon in 2015. In the meantime I have been following their progress closely (as I do with all of the companies and ventures featured on HSS) and now I had the honor to have a conversation with Dr. Tibor Pacher to see where the project is currently at and to better understand his vision and mission as well as his ultimate motivation for taking the leading role in this unique and innovation-driven venture.
Hungarian Success Stories (HSS): Could you please tell us a little bit about how the idea came to start and lead this project?
Dr. Tibor Pacher (TP): First time I heard about the Google Lunar XPRIZE was in 2008, when I was contacted by one of the teams that had already signed up to the competition. We were looking at the option that I could join their team in this endeavor, but then I realized that this is a real opportunity to set up a Hungarian team, as we have a lot of young, talented engineers, and they would be able to do the task. I was absolutely convinced that a project like this can only have a positive impact: we have nothing to lose and every step we can accomplish will be a success. After I have been thinking and talking to some people about it for a year or so, I decided to start the Puli project officially with some guerilla marketing actions. Perhaps the first published blog post about the Hungarian GLXP Team was the one at Knights of Cydonia Region. We received quite a number of good applications from young people and the Team Puli started to form quickly.
I thought – and I am still convinced today – that a project like this will be very important to show that we can really build up things like this in Hungary based on cooperation and volunteer work. Or, as I said in my Team Leader Quote for the GLXP: “With hard work, perseverance, humility, and with perhaps a bit of luck, we can aim to go high and we hope that many Hungarians will look at the Moon differently in the future.”
HSS: What are you very proud of so far in regards to the overall Puli project?
TP: I am extremely proud of having shown to all the sceptics that Yes, we can! – and after three years of hard work we are thriving. We have managed to create a good overall awareness about our work in Hungary, and we are also very well respected in the GLXP community. We conducted a highly successful test in the Moroccan desert during the MARS2013 project of the Austrian Space Forum in February 2013 and currently we are preparing for the next one at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) in Hawaii. I am also very happy that Team Puli is in the final round of the bid to bring the 2014 GLXP Team Summit to Budapest, the prestigious yearly meeting of the competing teams. Irrespective from the outcome of the bid – which I am convinced will be positive for Budapest – it is a real accomplishment to be able to compete for the organization of prestigious events.
It is simply great that we could convince quite a lot of renowned companies that our project is well worth to be supported. And I am, of course, very proud of my Team, especially of the people who support my efforts from the beginning to get the Puli to the Moon. They are aware of the fact that we have entered a real Marathon run, and only persistence is what really counts.
HSS: And what are the things that would take a big burden off your shoulders as the project leader?
TP: I would be more than happy to have two or three more people in the Team who could carry on the fire with pride, positive attitude and enthusiasm. Also, a big wawe of cooperation accross Hungary and amongst all Hungarians in the world would enormously help us to push our Hungarian Puli to the Moon!
HSS: How is the overall project going in terms of reached milestones and achievements?
TP: We have successfully completed the registration process and became an official GLXP Team in February 2011. Since then we have managed to build our prototype rover I2.x series – there are two incarnations of this, called I2.0 and I2.5. We have built and tested the basic process of our Mission Control during the MARS2013 mission and “landed” our I2.0 rover in the Moroccan desert, where it worked to our satisfaction. Amazing!
So I believe we are on track, although I would have been happier, if we could have finished the I2 phase earlier and with a higher level of implemented functionality.
HSS: The next big milestone of the project is to take the Puli to Hawaii accompanied by two project members for field testing purposes. For this part of the project you have started an Indiegogo campaign that shall raise USD 10’000 to finance the travel expenses. Can you please tell a bit more about what exactly are your expectations of this trip to Hawaii and how it will serve the overall project?
TP: The test in Hawaii is very important for us. In the PISCES environment we will face Moon-regolith like dust, rocky terrains, and so on. It is ideal to test our planned lunar surface activities as much as possible, the Mooncasts, and the basic design line for our rover. We also plan to collect a lot of useful information for the Iteration 3 development phase and the upcoming, even more complex tests and performance tests.
This visit at the Mauna Kea will also help us sharpening our public profile – as it is a very important task to create a well supported project among the 15 millions of Hungarians worldwide.
HSS: Can you please give us an outlook what is the next major step of the project after testing the Puli in Hawaii?
TP: We are now in the middle of our Iteration 3 phase, which will result in tested space grade systems, and it is planned to be finished mid 2014. This will also take us to next level to build the actual flight hardware: the so-called Iteration 4 phase will last probably until early-mid 2015, depending on our financial strength. Currently, our Moon flight is scheduled for the last months of 2015. Although at this point details cannot be disclosed, the most probable option is to get to the Moon by sharing a ride with one or more of our fellow competitors.
The next immediate big challenge is to ensure that our Iteration 3 rover will become a fully space grade one, meaning we have to shake, boil, freeze and radiate it, and we will also bring our I3.x into the vacuum chamber. At the same time we have to finalize our Moon ride and landing strategy, which, as I mentioned before, might include close cooperation with another GLXP team or teams.
HSS: The overall project is more than just a dream coming true for a few people – it also has a social component to promote and attract future talents to scientific careers. Even though it is probably still too early to make a conclusion, but do you think that the project is able to raise sustainable interest within the Hungarian society?
TP: I think we already have a number of successes. During the three years we reached out to thousands of secondary school students and to the general public. We also supported a talented team of secondary school students, who participated at and won the MoonBots 2012 competition – the Hungarobots from Sopron. Our Hungarian blog won the Goldenblog contest in 2012 in the ‘Expert Blogs’ category.
Currently we are extending our educational and public outreach (EPO) activities as well, and we will conduct a series of events accross the country. Although not public yet, I can say that we have a very honorable patron for our “Puli Tours Accross The Country” event series, so stay tuned for our next public events!
HSS: And the last question would be: What is your personal feeling? Will the Puli land on the Moon 2015?
TP: Absolutely, we stick to our goal to land the Puli on the Moon in 2015. Together, yes, we can!
We can all help this initiative to make it an absolute success. The team Puli, as one of the 22 official Google Lunar X Prize competing teams worldwide, offers several options for cooperation, sponsorship, special launch support and donation. As mentioned in the interview above, the team has just started an Indiegogo campaign that shall raise USD 10’000 to finance two team members’ travel expenses to the area of Mauna Kea volcano, in Hawaii, where they plan to test the Puli rover in a Moon-similar environment. By supporting the Puli team in one way or the other, we are all making a statement with our contributions that ventures like this are of importance now and for the times ahead of us by paving the way for the generations to come.
Source of images: courtesy of Puli Space Technologies.