ONE SMALL STEP FOR CORPORATE SPACE FLIGHT
June 21, 2004
SpaceShipOne was designed to win the Ansari X Prize, which will award $10 million to the first craft that can fly three passengers 62 miles into space, return to Earth and repeat the feat within two weeks. Today's flight will not qualify for the prize, but those flights are expected to follow soon. If SpaceShipOne reaches an altitude of 62 miles as expected, it will represent the first time a private entity has put a man into space, says the Washington Times.
The craft was designed by Burt Rutan, backed by $20 million from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Allen will not receive much of a return on his investment even if SpaceShipOne wins the Ansari X Prize, but that was not the goal, says the Times:
- The contest was established to encourage entrepreneurial investments and innovation in space, in the same way the aviation prizes of the 20th century helped to drive the development of commercial aviation.
- Rutan and others believe that commercial suborbital flights are likely to follow his demonstration that such ventures are possible.
NASA has also embraced the idea of competitions, and it recently held a workshop to gather ideas for its new program of prize contests, the Centennial Challenges:
- The agency hopes to offer between three and five challenges each year, largely derived from NASA's new vision of exploration.
- The President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond also recommended that Congress encourage private investment in space by offering "significant monetary prizes."
Competitions have pushed the private sector to the cusp of significant profit from space commercialization, says the Times. Congress should fund NASA's prize initiative. To add more fuel, Congress should also act on the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
Source: Editorial, "Great space expectations," Washington Times, June 21, 2004.
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