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Where specifically do you think NASA should be focused?
Diamandis: NASA should be in focusing on breakthroughs in propulsion systems. They should be taking very high risks, funding things that are likely to fail because that's what government should be doing, pushing the envelope.
NASA should be focusing on: Is there life on Mars? Is there life on Europa? Understanding the Jovian and Saturn systems. They should be focusing on building infrastructure the same way that we had the railroads, but I also think that NASA should be purchasing, wherever possible, fixed-price content, information and technology from companies.
So the best way to go to the moon is for NASA to say, "We will pay a contract for the first company to go and set up a habitat on the moon,"--very much the same way that we're doing our Google Lunar X Prize. NASA can, in fact, offer our fixed-price contracts. It just doesn't work, unfortunately, with the political system where, the Congressmen from Alabama or the Congressmen from Maryland wants to see employment in their state.
What do you think was the catalyst for the emergence of the private space sector?
Diamandis: The catalyst has been frustration on one side. I know from myself it's been impatience on waiting for NASA to do it. The other thing is that unfortunately over the last 40 years, space has become very unavailable. It's only a hundred astronauts in the U.S. that have a chance to go. So for God's sakes, if you're not one of those lucky, well-trained, highly selected astronauts, what are your options for being involved? So it's become so exclusive that private industry has bolted up saying, "Well, heck, we'll just do it ourselves," and I know that's been a lot of my motivation.
The other thing is I think people are beginning to realize that there is a huge potential market in space. Not necessarily just people--that's the first market--but the notion that everything we hold of value on Earth, the metals and minerals and energy and real estate. The multibillion, trillion-dollar markets that we fight wars over are in infinite quantities in space.
People are amazed when I say an average half-kilometer asteroid--of which there are probably tens of thousands--the average asteroid of that size is worth something in the order of $20 trillion to $30 trillion in nickel and iron and platinum metal--huge, vast quantities. In fact, many of the nickel mines and platinum mines on Earth that we mine today are old asteroid impact sites that are just now where we're going to mine. So I think in the same way that America bought Alaska from the Russians in the 1850s; it was called Seward's Folly and we didn't value it back then. But as we started to recognize that it had vast resources of gold and timber and fishing and oil, it became a very economically viable place. We built the roads, the railroads, the airlines to get there. The same thing will happen with space.
What are the major markets you see in space now?
Diamandis: There are two major markets available today, and that's where I focus my energy. One is tourism and the other is entertainment. In the future it will be resources. It will be the ability to go out there and get energy and metals, minerals and real estate. That will be the trillion-dollar markets for the future.
Space Adventures has so far flown, for a hefty price, four private citizens to the International Space Station. And the prices, I know, are only going up. Do you have any concern that much of the public will dismiss this endeavor as more conspicuous consumption by rich people?
Diamandis: If the public does dismiss it, they are a little bit naive, because the fact that they can buy a personal computer for a thousand bucks, or hop on a Southwest flight for $200, is the result of the exact same thing happening tens of years ago. So when aviation first started, it was expensive and only the wealthy could do it, and when the first computers were available they were expensive and only wealthy people could purchase them. So, if you don't support this, you are discounting the availability to your children and their children to have low-cost space flight. So, it begins first with wealthy individuals who are pioneers, who put up their money and support the birth of the industry, and then as you get more and more people flying, the cost will come down and reliability will go up.
What was it like at the X Prize Foundation after the success of the Ansari X Prize? Was that a turning point for you? And can you talk about some of the other prizes you're excited about?
Diamandis: I'm happy to. The Ansari X Prize was won in October of 2004, and it was a pivotal moment. It proved once again that this concept of incentive prizes works, and we went from there to bringing additional folks on the board like Larry Page and Elon Musk, Dean Kamen, Craig Venter, and we built the foundation into a world-class prize organization where we're launching a range of prizes in space, energy, life sciences and global entrepreneurship. We launched the Archon X Prize for Genomics: the first team to sequence a hundred human genomes in 10 days wins $1,000,000. We have just launched the Google Lunar X Prize: $30 million of prize money for private teams to land on the moon and rove 500 meters and send back digital video and e-mails and photos, and really start a new generation of private space exploration on the moon.
Which prize will be the next to come to fruition?
Diamandis: The competitions for the automotive X Prize will occur in 2009 and 2010, so those are likely to be the next major breakthroughs. Then the Google Lunar X Prize--I believe that we will see that one by 2012.
Day 1: Private industry moves to take over space race
The space race taking shape in the private sector today is due in large part to boyhood dreams of becoming astronauts.
Day 1: Space entrepreneur shoots for the moon
Space Adventures CEO Peter Diamandis talks about the future of private space travel to the moon and beyond.
Day 1: Key milestones in space exploration
A timeline of some of the events that brought humans into space and will guide where we go next.
Day 2: Silicon galaxy
Technologies developed by NASA have led to some of the most important commercial innovations to come out of Silicon Valley.
Day 2: The satellite age
The commercial satellite market has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry, but future growth could suffer.
Day 3: Do we need NASA?
Is NASA still worth spending more than $16 billion in taxpayer money each year?
Day 3: Designing a 21st-century space suit
MIT professor Dava Newman tells how the form-fitting BioSuit will help give NASA a ready-to-wear outfit for the moon and Mars.
Memories from the space age
CNET News.com readers (and writers) share their memories from the early days of space exploration. October 5, 2007
Japan probe approaches moon
A new space race is getting under way, with as many as five nations expecting to land hardware on the moon within five years. October 4, 2007
Who's who in space travel
The private sector is laying the groundwork for a new era of space exploration. October 3, 2007
A half-century of space flight
We take a look at how the ships that enable space exploration are evolving. October 1, 2007
Strange visitors to other planets
The first Voyager spacecraft left Earth 30 years ago. Now, nearly 10 billion miles from home, they aren't finished yet.August 28, 2007
Building a better space suit
At MIT and the University of North Dakota, researchers are trying out new designs to clothe astronauts heading to Mars. July 18, 2007
Stellar views from the Hubble at 17
NASA and ESA celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's anniversary with colliding stars and supernovas.April 25, 2007
The race to space: Recalling Sputnik
The Baltimore Sun
Science Times special coverage
New York Times
The next 50 years in space
Happy birthday, Sputnik! (Thanks for the Internet)
Thank Sputnik for today's orbital freedom
Christian Science Monitor
Editors: Jennifer Guevin, Jim Kerstetter
Design: Andrew Ballagh
Production: Madeleine Kempton
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