While many Americans chase millionaire status by "sitting with lotto tickets" and "giving their cash to casinos" (which at least gets us out of the house), some make their money by being out of this world awesome. The 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander competition has been completed, awarding two million dollars to the winners - and advancing extraterrestrial science in the process.
The competition was to build a prototype lunar lander which could take off, hover, land on a bullseye and make a return trip - all inside a time limit, automated, and without assistance (because it'll be quite hard to get out and repair it on the moon). Two teams completed the Level 2 challenge, thrusting through the air for three minutes before landing on a rocky surface within one meter of the target point. You're not that good with a football, never mind building and coding an off-world roboprobe.
Masten Space Systems took away a solid million bucks, with second placed Armadillo Aerospace cleaning up with five hundred thousand (the rest of the money going to other Level 1 entrants who managed a minute and a half in the air). There was some controversy over the placement with Armadillo arguing over how Masten were allowed an extra day of flight, proving that even at the very limits of human achievement there's still as strong "I WANNA WIN" vibe - indeed, it's exactly that inherently human quality that the X Prize foundation harnesses for good in these competitions.
The thing is, human sports like the Olympics enforce incredibly strict regulations because, well, because we can do all that stuff already. We've got machines that can run in straight lines and toss pointless little balls far faster and further than any person, which is why we have to niggle and measure to make sure the "best" person that year wins. When it's building affordable lunar landers, we don't actually have any of those yet. The judges aren't going to set the moon mission back a year just so the silver medalist doesn't cry "That's not fair!" They're going to see if the gadgets work - which they do!
Luckily, all involved are professionals, and the Armadillo spokesman acknowledged that the rules give the judges power to do whatever they like. And with incredible events like this happening more often, it's only a matter of time until humanity has the same freedom.
Lunar Lander Competition http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2009/nov/HQ_09-258-Lunar_Lander.html