Aero-News.net, 19 Mar 2008: Diamandis Rallies WAI Crowd Around Private Spaceflight
Hopes To Grow Zero-G Program Significantly
by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
The Women in Aviation International Conference always has top speakers in the aviation field, and the messages these speakers impart to the audience have no time limit. So, even though the WAI conference is over for this year (start making plans for Atlanta (GA) February 26 - 28 2009) the speakers' words are worth repeating.
Dr. Peter Diamandis was born in the Bronx, and while other kids played stickball, Diamandis was designing rockets. In 8th grade he took 1st Prize in the Estes rocket design contest. Since age 9 becoming an astronaut was his passion. He attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received an undergraduate degree in Molecular Genetics and graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering. Harvard Medical School was next, and Diamandis added M.D. to his name.
Realizing his chances were "1 in 1,000" of becoming a NASA astronaut, Diamandis set out to find a way to travel into space another way. "I made a commitment to do it privately," Diamandis told his audience at WAI last week.
While reading The Spirit of St. Louis, Diamandis latched onto the fact Charles Lindbergh flew his solo flight for the $25,000 Ortieg Prize. "With that in mind I put together a prize," Diamandis said. "I wanted a new generation of private spaceships that I can fly and that you can fly."
He wanted private enterprise, not governments to come in and win. The $10 Million purse was enough to attract private interest in the challenge. A three person spaceship would allow for a pilot and two paying passengers, and the altitude requirement was lowered from 100 miles to 100 kilometers -- "knowing full well most Americans wouldn't know the difference between the two anyway, unfortunately," joked Diamandis.
Two flights in two weeks was the goal. Twenty six teams competed... and as we know, Scaled Composites took home the inaugural X-Prize in 2004.
"We started making headlines" Diamandis noted "And we decided afterwards to take the X Prize concept forward" Planning has started on $300 - $500 billion in prizes in the next five years in areas such as space, underwater, life sciences (including cancer), energy and the environment.
The Google X Prize was announced last September. "A $30 million private race to the moon," Diamandis called it. Competitors must build a robot, land it on the moon, send back video and photos, travel 500 meters and send more videos and images back to Earth. Over 650 registration requests from 60 countries have been received within these short six months. Coupled with the Google X Prize and the future X Prize's will be an educational component. Students can follow the team's progress via the internet and get involved.
"Hopefully we'll be launching competitions in parallel at the high school and junior high school level," Diamandis said. "To get the kids excited."
To those who believe the money could be better spent on Earth, Diamandis has a few words. "As we move into space we'll be developing technologies and be able to gain access to resources. Frankly if we're able to mine asteroids in deep space instead of strip mining the Earth, I think the net benefit will be much better to Earth. Everything we hold of value on Earth, metals, minerals, energy, real estate are in infinite quantities in space. I think space represents vast resources that can help humanity move off the planet and live higher standards of living. I think it's not only necessary but inevitable and will be a net benefit to the environment."
While watching the Apollo missions on television Diamandis "always wondered growing up as a kid where this zero gravity room was." In 1993, Diamandis partnered with astronaut Dr. Byron K. Lichtenberg and NASA engineer Ray Cronise. Convinced that the public would gravitate to the opportunity to experience Zero-G, they took their idea to the FAA.
According to Diamandis, after the presentation the FAA response was "You want to do what?" Finally, after 11 years of meeting with lawyers, Zero-G took off. "Make sure you are doing what is absolutely, passionately in your heart," Diamandis said "I guarantee you if Zero-G was not passionately in my heart it would not have happened." Zero-G recently won a contract to provide NASA with zero gravity services, as the space agency's official commercial provider.
Education is currently Zero-G's single largest market, flying students and teachers. In 2005, Zero-G initiated a program to fly the top math and science teachers. Diamandis is "hoping to grow that program significantly."
"There's a complete shortage of people in math, science and technology." Diamandis acknowledges. With the teachers in Zero G program (coupled with Northrop Grumman) Diamandis is "giving the teachers a chance to become heroes in the classroom, with their flightsuits and videos." It gives the student a first hand look at the aerospace field and ignite a passion for it when they see their teacher and hear the experiences.
Diamandis notes today's roll models are people like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. These are the stories in the media. Diamandis imagines our engineers and scientists being shown as the heroes instead.
At WAI, Diamandis announced his intent to create a program to fly the top 500 female high school or junior high school students. Diamandis envisions the local congressmen and senators meeting the flight (with an all female crew) afterwards and having media present and being broadcast around the globe. With the right sponsorship, Diamandis hopes to announce the program at a future Women in Aviation Conference. "Women can go into space and lead this arena as well," Diamandis stated.
Not being satisfied with sending rockets into space, Diamandis also talked about the fledgling Rocket Racing League (RRL). "We are defining a brand new sport," said Diamandis. Somewhat bored by the standard Indy car race, Diamandis envisioned a new kind of motor sport. "For me, putting a rocket engine on anything seems like a very natural thing to do."
Partnering with a friend, Diamandis gave an overview of the RRL. "We're developing a new set of vehicles called X-Racers." The X Racers will be rocket powered, delta wing, canard, single pilot vehicles. Ten racers will compete a mile up, with the course about two miles by half a mile right in front of the spectators.
The engines have been developed and are being tested. "We're hoping this Spring, early Summer to have our first public flight." Diamandis revealed. "Then we'll be rapidly starting to build vehicles so by the time X Prize Cup hits next Fall/Winter we can have the first competitions." Diamandis admits being behind schedule, but "we need to make sure it's safe".
While Diamandis has not yet gone into space, as co-founder and managing director of Space Adventures he has helped five civilians experience space travel. Space Adventures work with the Russians, using the Soyuz spacecraft. A sixth civilian is currently in training.
Diamandis has also had a hand in some lesser known ventures which also cover aviation/aerospace. Angel Technologies Corporation, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), Starport.com and Space Generation Foundation to name a few. The International Space University may be one of the better known "lesser" ideas.
Diamandis has earned a "few" awards along the way as well. In 2003 there was the World Technology Award for Space. In 2006, Diamandis snagged the Heinlein Award (inaugural year), The Lindbergh Award, the Wired RAVE award and the Neil Armstrong Award for Aerospace Achievement and Leadership. He has twice received the Aviation & Space Technology laurel.
"I live in the space business" says Diamandis. Speaking to the primarily female audience at WAI, Diamandis appealed to the women to give a space career a try. "I can tell when I'm in a space meeting because it's all guys," Diamandis said, "and that sucks."
On a happier note, Diamandis adds "It is an exciting time right now. We can do now with small groups what only nations could do before. With that capability comes the chance to really do incredible and amazing things."
With his personal motto of "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself!" Diamandis has made his words a reality... and hopes the rest of us will follow suit, most especially the ladies