I was recently priviledged to attend the press conference and gala dinner to announce the X-Prize.
In case you haven't heard of it, the X-Prize is a prize being offered to the first privately built spaceship which can take passengers to a suborbital altitude, land safely, and get back up there within two weeks. It's a $10 million dollar prize, intended to stimulate private space flight in the same way that cash prizes once boosted aviation.
In addition to the primary prize, the new X-Prize Foundation announced an annual "Spirit of St. Louis Prize" to be awarded to those who do the most for promoting private space flight. It was also announced that the new Mid-America Airport is to be upgraded to the Mid-America Spaceport. Funds for this were already in place.
The conference and dinner attracted a great number of luminaries. This included 17 astronauts, the head of NASA, and a little old plane builder name Burt Rutan. Some people are bowled over to meet movie stars. Me, I was breathless at seeing all these folks. That guy talking at the top of the page? That's a fellow is called Buzz Aldrin. I actually shook the man's hand.
As an old L-5 member, I've see a lot of schemes come and go. But these
guys have the money, the people, and the savvy to pull this thing off.
If you have any doubts, this is the real thing.
Buzz was one of the first speakers. He gave a good talk, and it was certainly a thrill to see him. My only disappointment was that he seemed at least as concerned with promoting his new novel as he was with boosting the X-Prize. He talked extensively about his novel, and even mentioned (twice) that he was going to be selling advanced copies later in the day. I know, a guy's gotta make a living, and I'm guilty of promoting my books at some pretty bad times. It was just a noticable difference between Buzz's speech and the on-topic talks of the other speakers.
All these folks now standing are current or former astronauts. The group includes folks that go back to Gemini, and runs into current shuttle astronauts. Brian Lichtenberg, the guy at the front, was very enthusiastic, and a great guy to meet. He was twice a shuttle astronaut, flew over a 100 combat missions in Vietnam, and is currently an airline pilot. If the rest of Southwest's pilots are up to this grade, no wonder their record is so good.
This casually dressed fellow is Burt Rutan.
If you're not a not a aviation enthusiast, you might not be familiar with the man. Remember the plane called "Voyager" which flew non-stop around the world a few years ago? That was Burt's design. As he puts it, he's already the builder of the world's first private orbital craft. One slow orbit.
Burt is also the designer of some of the most beautiful airplanes ever to fly, the VeriEze, VeriViggen, and LongEz. These canard wing "stall proof" designs did a lot to revolutionize the way planes are built. They perform wonderfully. And they are just flat gorgeous.
According to Burt, the X-Prize will probably be collected in the next three years. I wouldn't be surprised if he was the one to nab it.
If you've got a rocket in your pocket and you think you can write your name in the starts, check out the X-Prize information over at the St. Louis 2004 page.
This page last updated on June 15, 1996
Copyright © 1996Mark C. Sumerc.