Lunar exploration has a corporate benefactor: Google Inc.

The Internet search giant hopes to fuel a new technological revolution by sponsoring the Google Lunar X Prize, which would award as much as $30 million in prizes for landing unmanned rovers on the moon and having them perform certain tasks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Before Google held its initial public offering in August 2004, its founders cautioned that they were not running "a conventional company." Spending corporate earnings on moon missions puts that pledge to the test.

But that philosophy has carried Google investors on a rocket-ship ride of their own -- those who bought IPO shares have since seen their holdings rise 517%.

Plus, $30 million is a rounding error for a company that generated $11 billion in revenue last year and is still growing fast.

Google's shares gained $2.13 to $524.78 after the announcement.

"This will probably frustrate investors at first glance, but when they see what this does for the Google brand, I think they will get their money's worth," said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. "If you are going to do something creative with your marketing dollars, you might as well shoot for the moon -- literally."

The international competition challenges entrants to land a robotic vehicle on the moon, have it travel at least 500 meters and beam video images and other data back to Earth. The first company to win the private-sector space race by 2012 would take home $20 million.

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