[This text is based on an AP news story by Connie Farrow, dated April 27, 1997.]
ST. LOUIS -- Government-funded human space flight has relied upon gigantic, super-expensive launch vehicles that almost no one gets to fly in. The question is, can an enterprising private citizen or group build a space vehicle safe and practical enough to use for space tourism?
A ten million dollar prize has been offered to anyone outside the government space program who can build and launch a spacecraft carrying three adults 62 miles into space, can make two flights in two weeks, and can land intact. The idea is to demonstrate that cheap, safe, public space flight is possible now.
So far, 10 teams have registered to compete for the prize. The contestants range from inventors and company presidents to a serviceman and a retiree.
The X Prize Foundation is offering the $10 million prize in the hope private enterprise will build a new space travel industry.
Peter Diamandis, a 35-year-old with a medical degree from Harvard and an aerospace engineering degree from MIT who heads the foundation, says his generation grew up believing "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Diamandis has visions of vacations in space at "orbital hotels" with panoramic views of the Earth. And he's not alone. When he announced the prize last year on the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis, the crowd included Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969, and Burt Rutan, who created the first plane to fly around the world without refueling.
Rutan was the first to announce his intent to enter the X Prize competition.
Although the private sector must build the winning rocket, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said the government would provide any technical information that has been made public and make available equipment for purposes such as wind tunnel tests.
Paul Tryon, a 65-year-old retiree from the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, is among the contestants. He has more than 34 years experience in aeronautical engineering, having worked for McDonnell Douglas and Bell Aircraft.
"I definitely think it can be done," Tryon said. "I think it has to be done if we're ever going to make serious use of space."
Although most contestants won't talk in detail about their plans, Tryon said his initially involved using an F-4 military aircraft, which was built by McDonnell Douglas and is no longer used in the United States. He figured he could overhaul the control panel so the plane would go faster and make the altitude.
"My personal opinion is that you'll never be able to get the American public into something that looks like the Apollo," Tryon said. "I think they'd be afraid of it, and frankly I think they'd be justified."
The Air Force has since rejected Tryon's request to use an F-4, leaving Tryon back at square one.
Robert Zubrin, a leading expert on Mars exploration who is also co-founder of Pioneer Rocketplane in Lakewood, Colorado, said he was putting together a team to raise capital and build his spacecraft. Tony McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff and a four-star general, is among those he has recruited, Zubrin said.
"The same vehicle that we are developing for the X Prize competition will be able to launch satellites at half the current price or be able to fly passengers from New York to London in less than one hour," Zubrin said.
Rutan, president of Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif., has a formidable track record in aeronautical engineering. He created the Voyager, which in 1986 became the first aircraft to fly around the world on one tank of fuel.
"I believe that we have to have tourism, and I am tired of waiting for someone else to do it," Rutan said. "Compared to the difficulty, danger and expense of flying in the 1920s, leaving the atmosphere is a piece of cake."
The announcement of the prize came on the 69th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's solo, nonstop flight from New York to Paris. That flight in his Spirit of St. Louis single-engine plane took place May 20-21, 1927.
Lindbergh won a $25,000 prize offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig in 1919. Eight others grasped at the prize but failed. Lindbergh was backed by eight businessmen.
Like Lindbergh, the not-for-profit X Prize Foundation has received support from St. Louis business leaders, who have donated $1 million for operations of the foundation. They're working on raising the $10 million for the prize.
Diamandis predicted that someone will win the X Prize in three to five years. "And one to two years after that, we will have commercial tickets available for sale," he said. "The fact that we have 10 teams registered so far shows that the will, the drive and the technology is out there."
The X Prize Foundation's web site is www.xprize.org.
Original file name: CNI - X Prize for space shot
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