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We're at the 50th anniversary of space flight. How do you think of this time in the history of exploration in space?
Diamandis: I believe that it's during our lifetimes, not our children's or their children's, that the human race is going to irreversibly move off the planet. At this moment in time, the next few decades will be something remembered for millennia to come, when the human race moved off planet Earth to other planets, but also to human-made, eventual colonies. So it's a very magical time. It's the equivalent, if you would, of the fish moving on to land or of the early hominids moving out of the plains of Africa to the rest of the earth.
The last 50 years are really in two portions. The first 20 years of space were magical. Between the times of Sputnik in 1957 through the (last) landing on the moon in 1972 it was an incredible period of explosive growth of doing what was almost thought impossible. The engine that powered those first 15 years--the engine that powered that (was politics and fear), the race between the Soviet Union and the United States--and once that finished, really everything stopped.
I think that the next 50 years need to be powered by a different engine; and what I propose is really a capitalist engine. It's what drives tremendous progress on everything else we do, whether it's the computer, the Internet, aviation. The notion that we build industries that make money and add value to human life, that drives us forward. As long as it's based on strictly science or strictly political whim, it's going to be a very slow progress.
You think that's key to inspiring kids and reversing a depletion of young talent in science and math?
Diamandis: I do. I think that we need to have frontiers. I think we need to have exciting visions of the future that are not introverted. A good friend of mine runs Second Life, and Philip Rosedale and I talk about the fact that in one sense he is creating a frontier people can delve into, and at the same time that I'm working on creating a frontier where people can go. One is virtual, and one is physical. Both are important, but today if you are excited about space, you don't have the option of going there through the governments. Your chances of becoming an NBA superstar are far greater than becoming an astronaut.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle blocking the development of the private space flight industry?
Diamandis: The biggest obstacle right now is capital and the demonstration of the business models. The capital is starting to flow again from wealthy individuals who have made their money in traditional markets, who have a long-term vision of the allure of space, but we haven't yet seen really what I call a Netscape event.
A company in the space arena goes public and provides return to its early investors, and everybody says, "How do I do that again?" That was the massive flow of capital that occurred in the '90s into the Internet business. Once that's done you'll see capital start to flow, and people will need to take risks, and that is going to happen over the next decade or so.
What do you envision will be the Netscape event? I mean, which companies?
Diamandis: I do believe that I know some of the companies that could be very successful and go public. I think that the real value, as I mentioned earlier, is going to be in obtaining resources from space. The growth of humanity on Earth, the issues that we're dealing with in terms of availability of resources, cannot continue when we're only confining our resources to planet Earth. We have to look outside of our current biosphere and look beyond Earth orbit. Once we do that, we can become really a very vibrant and rapid-growth species. But it reaches a point at which, if you say we're only going to stay within the Earth's biosphere, then you have to stop your growth and reverse it. It's like a bacteria in a petri dish; you're going to run out of resources, and everybody is going to perish at the end.
I just attended a space conference at Caltech, and they talked a lot about the high cost of getting into space. Can you talk about how to solve that problem, and how these teams that are competing in the Google X Prize are going to get on to the moon?
Diamandis: The problem of low-cost space flight is not really that complex. The solution is to fly more. Today, the total number of commercial launches to orbit worldwide is something like 12 to 15 launches in a good year. Total worldwide, the number of commercial vendors offering launches is like 12. You're talking about a single customer per launch company and it's not a commercial marketplace. There are no economies there. We really need to reach a time when there are hundreds or thousands of launches per year. Once we're able to build that kind of a real marketplace, then there's money being made, companies invest in breakthroughs and research to improve their product. There's only one marketplace in my mind that makes sense there and that's human space flight. It's the only large enough market in the near term. Eventually it will be accessing space for resources.
How would you characterize the landscape of the private space sector right now?
Diamandis: Hopeful. There are a few furry mammals evolving amongst all the dinosaurs.
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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