It's real, and it should happen in October 2021.
This story might require a suspension of disbelief for some readers, but it is true. There are plans to build two radio-controlled cars and race them on the surface of the Moon. This isn't some pet project cooked up by NASA scientists either – high-school students will build and ultimately race these cars, but as you might imagine, it's not nearly as simple as that.
The company behind this crazy idea is Moon Mark, and there is a method to the madness. The obvious mission is to inspire a new generation of science-minded adventurers to boldly go race where no one has raced before, and some friendly competition with a literal out-of-this-world contest of speed is certainly a good place to start. The inspiration won't simply come from the actual race, however. Six teams of students will enter the contest and advance through qualifying rounds ranging from drone operation to space commercialization until two teams are chosen for the final battle.
Though not stated outright, commercialization is another aspect of this endeavor. Moon Mark is partnered with Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which aims to be the first private company to land on the moon. As such, the race will be only a portion of this mission to the Moon, and the vehicles will remain on the surface for additional experiments, though the details of the extended mission are unknown.
For that matter, the car designs are also unknown, but there is some serious firepower backing the students on that front. Frank Stephenson Design is on-board as a partner, and if that name sounds familiar, it's because Stephenson has a long history in the automotive realm with automakers such as Ferrari and McLaren, among others. Additional partners on the endeavor are aerospace company Lunar Outpost, The Mentor Project, and NASA has a hand as well. The space agency awarded its first commercial lunar mission to Intuitive Machines in 2019, with the goal of delivering a range of equipment to the moon in 2021.
According to New Atlas, the race won't be a crawling contest done through pre-programmed, ultra-low-speed maneuvers. The cars will be engineered with suspensions capable of landing after catching "air" from obstacles, and they will be controlled in real-time around a track established by coordinates. Of course, real-time in this instance means a total delay of nearly three seconds, accounting for the communication lag between the Earth and Moon. And yes, in keeping with the commercialization aspect, the race will be broadcast and sponsorship opportunities are available.
If all goes according to plan, the cars and a bevy of other items will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and reach the Moon next October. Provided the funding holds out, it could well be one of the most expensive auto races in the history of racing.