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Mon, Nov 08, 2004

X Prize Winners Take Their Victory Dance

St. Louis Celebrates Another Major Aero-Victory

Just over a month ago, history was made when an enterprising team of aerospace professionals took on the challenge posed by Dr. Peter Diamandis eight years before... to build the first steps on man's road to making space travel available to the common man. SpaceShipOne and Mojave Aerospace Ventures, LLC. reached for the stars and nearly 370,000 feet later, they had won the $10 million ANSARI X PRIZE. Pilot Brian Binnie soared WAY past the threshold of space (328,000'), also breaking the August 22, 1963 record set by Joseph A. Walker who flew the X-15 to an unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet.

In the shadow of the great city of St. Louis, on the grounds of the St. Louis Science Center (a magnificent facility), forward thinking members of the local community, as well as the rest of the X Prize team, gathered together to celebrate the "loss" of 10 million dollars and the award of the Ansari X Prize $10M check and trophy. 

Yes... right at this very moment, Burt Rutan's team of aero-innovators have ten million dollars of mad money to burn... and the aerospace world can but wait in anticipation of what is yet to come. We're sure it will be "very cool."

In a number of public and private events over the course of two days, Rutan, his team, Paul Allen, Erik Lindbergh (shown above), and the entire X Prize and New Spirit Of St. Louis teams gathered together and celebrated in a way that has probably not been seen since 1927. Interestingly; we must note that the X Prize achievement seems to have been subject to the "Rule of the 8's." It took eight years for the challenge of the Orteig prize to be realized in Charles Lindbergh's magnificent flight across the Atlantic... it took eight years for John Kennedy's 1961 challenge to be realized in man's first steps on the surface of the moon and it took eight years for Rutan's team to meet the challenge posed in 1996 by X Prize Founder Peter Diamandis... but it was a helluva eight years.

There were a number of unique moments to be had this weekend... the attendance of many of the Scaled Composites team--who were ferried to St. Louis in Paul Allen's private 757... Bob Scherer's well-timed fly-over in the Beech Starship Chaseplane -- just as the morning awards were concluding...

...the launch of a small electric RC model of SpaceShipOne to fly in the background of the morning award ceremonies (the model had a fully functional feather mechanism installed... an amazing little model)... Doug Shane choking through his emotions as he tried to talk about what it meant to be part of the Scaled Composites organization...

...NASA's Bill Readdy acknowledging his debt to model rocketry and the dreams inspired by Science Fiction writer Robert Heinlein before raising his glass in salute to the victorious team that launched SpaceShipOne... the video of Burt Rutan's speech to the inaugural X Prize dinner EIGHT years before... and the overall sense of giddy certainty that came every time hands were raised, en masse, to answer the question -- "How Many Of You Want To Go To Space?"

Rutan will be busy as soon as he returns to Mojave. The majority of the design work needed to make SpaceShipTwo a reality, awaits. Burt Rutan has been contracted by Sir Richard Branson to commence work on Virgin Galactic, a sub-orbital tourism program based on a commercial derivative of SpaceShipOne. Flights are expected to begin in 2008 and will cost about US$200,000 per person (and expected to get less expensive as the program matures). The new spaceship will be able to accommodate 1 pilot and 5 passengers. "We're very proud that the Ansari X PRIZE Competition has helped to spawn this new industry," said Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman of the X PRIZE. "This is exactly the results we hoped this $10M purse would create."

While many might have through this was the culmination of an effort... it is but a hint of so many things to come. Diamandis' organization has already announced the formation of the X PRIZE CUP... designed to be something of a "cross between Champ Grand Prix racing, the America's Cup, and the Olympics!"

This upcoming ten day event will be the Oshkosh of the space age. It's an event "where the average person can come and watch the next generations of space vehicles fly, where they can talk to the astronauts, see the vehicles up close, learn about the technology, and begin to dissolve the myth that they will never travel to space in their lifetime."

Scheduled to be hosted (eventually) in Las Cruces, New Mexico for ten days each year, the X Prize Cup is expected to have even more amazing sights than the X Prize has brought us so far... (and as X Prize's designated news team, you can be sure that ANN will be covering it to the max). The first X Prize Cup event will be held in a bit over a year from now in New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range, which is no stranger to space activity. When the permanent site is ready, the event will move to it's final home in Las Cruces, the future home of the "Southwest Regional Spaceport."

The Cup will offer competitive events in at least five categories: 

  • Fastest recycle time between the first launch and second landing,
  • maximum number of passengers per launch,
  • total number of passengers during the course of the competition,
  • the maximum altitude achieved
  • and the fastest flight time.

Overall, the award ceremonies made for an amazing weekend -- and it is but one of many to come... because the award of the X Prize is not about the end of a dream, but the full realization of the altogether new, incredible, future that the dream has inspired.

Take my word for it... You ain't seen nothing yet.

FMI: www.xprize.org


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