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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
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Space Team Fights Over Google Prize for Moon Shot

(CN) - A team of space scientists trying to win Google's $30 million prize by landing a robot on the moon say a former colleague tried to usurp and sabotage their effort after a falling-out over

money. Google established the Lunar X Prize "to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." To win, a team must land a robot on the moon, and get it to travel 500 meters over the surface and send images and data back to Earth.

LunaTrex founder Peter Bitar claims in Indianapolis Federal Court that Mary Cafasso infringed on the team's trademark, violated confidentiality agreements she'd signed, seriously damaged the team's relationship with an important potential sponsor and interfered with its goal to win the Lunar X prize competition.

Bitar, owner of an aviation design firm, began assembling his team of space scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators and engineers in 2007. He paid the $10,000 entry fee, hired design consultants to create a logo, and told his team he would pay all their competition-related travel expenses, and that each could share in "some percentage of the prize money won by the team."

He claims that after learning that he had begun lining up sponsors, Cafasso, whose expertise is in aviation trials, demanded payment for her services.

During the heated discussions that followed, Bitar says Cafasso wrongly claimed that she owned the team's intellectual property and that she, not Bitar, was the brains behind it.

Unable to resolve their differences, the team and Cafasso parted company.

Shortly thereafter, Bitar says, a disgruntled Cafasso, through her attorney, sent a series of damaging letters to LunaTrex's potential sponsors, team members, and to Google Lunar X Prize officials, questioning the leadership and control of the team.

Cafasso falsely asserted that she and a newly created company she incorporated in Nevada own the exclusive rights to the LunaTrex trademark, according to the complaint.

Bitar seeks declaratory relief, a permanent injunction and damages. He is represented by William Davisson of Anderson, Ind.

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