New X-Prize Announced: $30 Million for Moon Rovers

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Ultimately, the contest should open the final frontier to would-be space travelers across the globe, he added.

"Now we want to put the future of space in the hands of innovators and young people around the world," Diamandis said.

Besides bringing the competition to a global audience, the Internet will also provide much needed influxes of cash to spur innovation.

Web entrepreneurs are planning additional X Prizes, while leading contenders for victory are often bankrolled by dot-com tycoons.

"A lot of the IT billionaires grew up during the Apollo moon landings," Diamandis said. "Many believe that following the communications and Internet explosions, space will be the center of the next tech revolution."

Space Tourism Takes Off

Diamandis, an aerospace engineer, created the X Prize Foundation to inspire independent teams to develop cheap spacecraft to bring the possibility of space travel to the general public.

The original Ansari X Prize offered ten million dollars for the first private reusable spacecraft able to rocket three people to the 62-mile (100-kilometer) edge of Earth's gravity field twice within two weeks.

That prize was captured by the designers of SpaceShipOne, a manned rocket launched from a jet "mothership" in October of 2004.

SpaceShipOne, which made two suborbital arcs, was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. A followup design is now being developed to ferry tourists into space within several years. (Related photo gallery: "New Mexico Spaceport Designs Unveiled" [September 10, 2007].)

With the fantastic success of the first X Prize and of SpaceShipOne, Diamandis said, "we didn't just launch a spaceship, we launched a revolution."

Will Marshall, a researcher at the NASA Ames Center, agreed.

"The X Prize and Peter Diamandis haven't just opened space to independent space vehicle designers and explorers," he said. "They have entirely reconfigured notions on the future of space exploration."

According to Gary Martin, a director at the French-based International Space University, "the X Prize is a great idea that changed the world and helped open the space frontier."

Future Prizes

Not content to stop there, the X Prize Foundation will introduce even more prizes in the near future, Diamandis said.

The X Prize founder has already organized new awards for breakthroughs in genomics (10 million dollars) and lunar hovercraft (2.5 million dollars). (Related: "Personalized Medicine Promises Tailor-Made Diagnoses, Treatments" [October 18, 2006].)

Now he has also persuaded some of the world's leading tech tycoons to join the cause.

He's currently working out details on the new X Prizes with Microsoft's Paul Allen and Google's Larry Page.

"After Larry Page joined our board at the X Prize, he said, Let's create more prizes to spark radical breakthroughs in the areas most needed by humanity," Diamandis said.

The quest for prestige and wealth has been an age-old motivator for would-be explorers, he pointed out.

"Christopher Columbus had a contract with Queen Isabella that gave him a certain percentage of any wealth created during his voyages."

History is likely to repeat itself during the new space race, Diamandis added.

A first wave of explorers, he said, will likely be followed by idealists seeking "to found a new culture, a new religion, or a new utopia somewhere beyond Earth."

"During our lifetimes, humans are going to break out into space to become a multiplanet species," he said. "This will recreate the human race in ways now unrecognizable."

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