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John Carmack, creator of the childhood-innocence-purging video games Doom and Quake, has finally lead his team of rocketeers at Armadillo Aerospace to victory in the annual Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing challenge.

In its third year of participation, Armadillo Aerospace has snagged $350,000 in prize money for winning Level One of the two-tiered competition held October 24 to 25 at Las Cruces International Airport in New Mexico.

Armadillo's winning vehicle "Pixel" was able to rise to an altitude of 50 meters and touch down on a landing pad 100 meters away, while staying aloft for at least 90 seconds. The team then had to refuel and repeat the challenge in reverse within two and a half hours.

The competition is sponsored by NASA's Centennial Challenges program with a total purse of $2m designed to promote commercial space technology.

Level Two requires contestants to navigate a larger vehicle designed to stay aloft for twice as long and land on a simulated lunar terrain. Carmack's team made an attempt at Level Two this year, but were stymied by technical problems. As a result, $1.65m in prize money remains on the table for future competitions.

"It's great that we won the Level One," said Carmack. "We're going to keep working towards Level Two, which we can hopefully compete for again soon. We know exactly what we need to nail down and expect to have it solved in the next couple of weeks."

Although nine teams were registered for the 2008 challenge, only two ended up flying their vehicles this year. The other competitor, Chicago-based TrueZer0, was able to reach a height of 50 meters, but was unable to complete the 100 meter translation to the second landing pad.

Armadillo's entry for 2007 ended on its fourth attempt that year when the vehicle's engine exploded on ignition. The previous year, victory was snatched away when the lander's legs kept breaking off.

The X-Prize Foundation has a highlight video of day one of the competition,including Armadillo's winning flight

There's also a clip of the second day's unsuccessful attempt at Level Two, along with Carmack explaining what went wrong.

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