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
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
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