8 October 2009
Other - Other (None)
X-Prize Foundation Generates Competitive Spirit
For the benefit of humanity
by G B Leatherwood
Yesterday, October 7, 2009, the X-Prize Foundation announced that Masten Space Systems completed the first stage toward winning the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Masten’s vehicle, Xombie, successfully completed two vertical take-offs and landings, at 93 and 91 seconds, respectively. But with other challengers such as BonNova nipping at Masten’s heels, the race for the US$2 million purse is far from over.

Meanwhile, it’s also the fifth anniversary of Scaled Composite’s win of the Ansari X-Prize. On October 4, 2004, Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne touched down for the second time on a Mojave Desert runway, claiming the US$10 million prize for successfully building and launching a reusable spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth. (Read X-Prize Foundation's CEO Peter Diamandis' reflections at the Huffington Post.)

After Scaled Composites won, most people had considered the X-Prize Foundation’s purpose complete. But the Ansari X-Prize was created to jump-start an entire industry. And for the people at the X-Prize Foundation, it was just a taste of things to come.

The Foundation’s now proffers competitions in four arenas, all for the purpose of “bring[ing] about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”

The X-Prize Foundation has three competitions that are attracting entries and media attention:

- --$10 million prize for the first team to successfully sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for less than $10,000 per genome.

Google Lunar X-Prize--$30 million for the first privately funded teams to send a robot to the moon that will travel 500 meters and transmit video images and data back to the Earth.

- Progressive Automotive X-Prize--$10 million prize for the teams that can demonstrate an automobile which is fast, manufacturable, affordable, and exceeds 100 MPGe (energy equivalent) fuel economy.

The X-Prize Foundation hopes to do for exploration (space and oceans); energy and environment; life sciences; and education and global development, what it did for the space tourism industry.

X-Prize Foundation communications manager Michael Timmons said, “There had been previous attempts to create privately funded space launch systems, but the main benefit of the Ansari X-Prize was to crystallize the problem, attract new talents and new revenue sources, and to provide a new level of legitimacy for the groups and teams trying to tackle this very difficult technical challenge. When the prize was claimed in 2004, it was a watershed moment that captured the attention of a massive global community, and turned these space entrepreneurs from eccentrics into heroes.... The roster of an industry like the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, for example, reads like a list of X-Prize friends and family.”

The X-Prize Foundation will be thanking their initial supporters, such as X-Prize contributor and space tourist Anousheh Ansari, and SpaceShipOne pilot Brian Bennie, at an event on October 11, 2009 at the St. Louis (MO) Science Center. The Foundation wants to “share the story of where we’ve come in five years and look at where we’re headed.”

As President John F. Kennedy, said in his speech “We Choose To Go To The Moon” to Rice University, September 12, 1962, “..we do these and other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And also because if you don’t strive toward what you hope to accomplish, you’ll never earn the prize.
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G B Leatherwood 8 October 2009
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