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Sat, Aug 06, 2005

Diamandis Eager to See Private Spaceflight

X-Panding On The X-Prize

By Rob Finfrock

“Risk is the single biggest thing that we’re not doing anymore,” said Dr. Peter Diamandis at AirVenture 2005’s Theater in the Woods. “We’ve become so risk-adverse in society, and that is killing the space program. Governments and large corporation can’t take risks anymore, for fear of congressional inquiries and lawsuits.”

“But someone has to.”

It was in this spirit that Diamandis, Founder and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation that awarded the first $10 million dollar prize to Dick Rutan and SpaceShipOne last year, went on to detail his plans for the continuation of the program, including the creation of the annual X PRIZE Cup.

Comparing the X PRIZE to Charles Lindbergh’s motivation for flying from New York to Paris nonstop in 1927--- the $25,000 Orteig Prize--- Diamandis stressed the importance of providing incentives and encouraging competition.

“The only way to see technological advancements, for real innovation, is to provide an incentive,” said Diamandis. “Something that’s great about offering a prize is that it brings out such diversity of designs.  A number of teams out there are willing to go forward.  The fuse has been lit.” 

The X PRIZE Cup, the inaugural event of which is planned this year for October 6th - 9th in Las Cruces (NM) will consist of competition between several teams racing towards both low altitude rocket flight, and orbital space.  Many of those teams, such as John Carmack’s Armadillo and the daVinci Project, were contenders for the original X PRIZE.  Categories will include highest altitude achieved, most passengers carried, fastest turnaround time, and coolest-looking spacecraft.

“That one’s my favorite,” Diamandis laughed.

Dr. Diamandis also encouraged people to try their hand at zero gravity flight through the Zero-G Program, in which passengers can purchase a ride on a specially equipped 727 that flies a series of parabolas to create brief moments of varying degrees of weightlessness-Martian, lunar, and total weightlessness.  According to Diamandis, this staggered approach almost totally eliminates the possibility of motion sickness.

The flights, that usually cost $3750 per person, are currently discounted $500 for EAA members, as well as to non-members throughout the duration of the space shuttle Discovery’s flight.  “That beats spending $200,000” on a ship such as Virgin Galactic’s upcoming SpaceShipTwo for a ride into space to experience weightlessness, said Diamandis.

Dr. Diamandis cited several motivations for encouraging private space development, including the potential advancements in research, alternative energy programs, and medicine.  There is also the potential for profit.

“Wealth creation -- call it greed, if you wish,” said Diamandis. “A rock about a half kilometer in size, not very large, is worth something like $20 trillion dollars, in platinum group metal markets alone. Those same things that drove us this far-metals, minerals, real estate, and energy -- are in near infinite quantities in space.”

“We are on the verge of the most amazing time in human evolution ever,” said Diamandis.  “It is during our lifetimes that we are moving off this planet permanently.”

FMI: www.xprize.org; www.xpcup.com

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