For all humanity
SpaceShipOne's successful flights did more than win $10 million — they proved to the world that space is open for all humanity. Space exploration has been under the aegis of government agencies with multi-billion-dollar funding. Prior to SpaceShipOne's June 2004 flight, only the United States, the Russian Federation, and the People's Republic of China had sent humans into space.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe congratulated the MAV team in person after the September 29 flight. "This is another important chapter" in the history of manned space flight, he said. "In the end, it's about that human desire to explore."
SpaceShipOne and the X Prize have helped launch a new wave of private interest in space flight:
- Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group Ltd., announced a licensing agreement with MAV to manufacture multiple spacecraft based on the SpaceShipOne design. The new business, dubbed Virgin Galactic, plans to begin flights as early as 2007. Pricing will start around $200,000 per seat, and the company anticipates having at least 3,000 customers during the first few years.
- Robert Bigelow of Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace is planning to establish America's Space Prize, a $50-million award for the first orbital vehicle capable of carrying up to seven astronauts to an orbital outpost by decade's end.
- NASA has announced this year the Centennial Challenges that will manage prizes ranging up to $30 million for commercial space-flight milestones.
- SpaceDev, the Poway, California, firm that developed SpaceShipOne's rocket motor, is designing a reusable, piloted, suborbital spaceship named Dream Chaser in collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center. The spacecraft could be scaled up to transport passengers safely to and from low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station.
- Zero Gravity Corp., a privately held space-tourism company out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offers the experience of weightlessness on flights aboard a modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft. This is the only company to date approved by the FAA to conduct these flights, which are similar to those NASA uses to train astronauts.
- The da Vinci Project, an X-Prize contender funded by Canada's Golden Palace.com casino, still plans on launching its first private, manned mission. Last week, the team postponed its first flight, originally scheduled for October 2.
With the X Prize won, Peter Diamandis has announced a new competition. The X-Prize Cup will issue awards for altitude, distance, and speed records achieved by the new generation of civilian space companies. He said the first competition would get under way in 2006.