Editors' note: This is part of a series examining 50 years of space exploration.
Growing up in the '60s, Peter Diamandis aspired, like many kids, to be an astronaut. Now, as a pioneer and champion of the private space industry, he plans to take himself to the moon one day.
Diamandis, 46, has a lot of irons in the fire to make that happen. As chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, Diamandis helped ignite a new era in personal space flight with 2004's Ansari X Prize, an incentive competition to build and fly a manned suborbital vehicle past the Earth's atmosphere. Now, he's onto the Google Lunar X Prize, an entrepreneurial race to put a robotic rover on the moon that can survey the landscape.
And that's just the beginning. Diamandis has founded two space tourism companies. Zero Gravity Corp. takes as many as 3,000 people annually, from Las Vegas or Kennedy Space Center, on parabolic weightless flights. Its customers are the extraordinarily wealthy and the famous--renowned scientist Stephen Hawking flew earlier this year. Diamandis is also taking people higher through his company Space Adventures, which sells private flights to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket for about $25 million to $30 million.
He's also pioneering the entertainment space market, by co-founding with Granger Whitelaw the Rocket Racing League, a modern-day version of NASCAR but with rocket-powered aircraft. Scheduled for demonstration flights next year, teams will fly a three-dimensional course with augmented reality so you can watch it on TV, the Internet or Jumbotrons. Diamandis says that kind of market has multibillion-dollar potential.
Diamandis talked with CNET News.com about the 50th anniversary of space flight, the future trillion-dollar market in space, and the government's role in space exploration.
Q: How did you get interested in the space flight industry, and what drives you in this market?
Diamandis: Well, my passion for space really came as a kid. I was born in the early '60s?became passionate by watching Apollo happen and really wanted so much to become an astronaut myself. I went and got my medical degree and a six-pack of engineering degrees really with the intent of being able to apply to the astronaut corps; and after a while realized that my real passion was the goal of trying to take people there privately. I've spent the last 10 years really as a serial entrepreneur building nonprofit and for-profit companies focused on making space accessible to individuals.
Why do you think so many wealthy people like yourself, Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos have involved themselves in this area? Is there a common denominator between all of you?
Diamandis: Yeah, it's interesting. We're now entering a time where for the first time it is possible for individuals and small groups of people to do things in space. It used to take the Soviet Union or the United States and hundreds of thousands of people and a significant percentage of the gross national product. It's now viable for a small group of 10, 20 or 30 people backed by a wealthy individual to go and do something significant in space.
The SpaceShipOne team that won the Ansari X Prize led by Burt Rutan and backed by Paul Allen, it was really a group of 20 exceptional engineers with today's computational skills and fluid dynamics that can run on a laptop. It used to take an entire room-sized computer. There have been a number of individuals, folks like Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and John Carmack, who had made a large amount of money by pioneering a new industry, whether it be the Internet, software or personal computers. And they said, "Well, if I can really cause a breakthrough in this industry, perhaps I can do something in space."
Why are they doing something in space? Because that's what inspired them; that's what inspired me as a youth. So, you had this early inspiration and, unfortunately, the government never delivered on it. And in the last 40 years, we've never fulfilled the promise that we had seen in Apollo. So, now people are saying, "I'm going to give up on the government; I'm going to do it myself."
That makes me wonder if you think NASA is still relevant today?
Diamandis: I think NASA remains very relevant. I think that there needs to be a real partnership between the government and private industry in the same way there are in other industries. I mean, no private company in my mind is going to go out and explore far distant planets or go and send scientific missions to Mars, and that's what the government should be doing. It should be doing things that there are not commercial markets to do. Sending humans to orbit, sending people on zero-gravity flights, building commercial stations in orbit--these are things that private companies can do and probably do better.
We have a long history in the United States of the government pioneering, and private industry taking things over, and the government moving to the next step. You've seen this in the aviation industry, you've seen it in the computer industry, you've seen it in the Internet industry, and we should see it in the future in the space industry.
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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