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« This Is How It's Done, Senator Kerry | Main | The War On Science »

Save Centennial Challenges

Rick Tumlinson challenges the space activist community:

The most disappointing thing about the state of the Centennial Challenges is that the pro-frontier/pro-NewSpace community hasn't made Congress change its position.

Given the importance we have all attached to prizes and new ways of NASA/USG doing things in space, the tepid response of this community and its inability to raise enough pressure to get the prizes funded shows we are either too weak to effect significant change, too disorganized to do so, or we simply don't care or aren't willing to put our muscle where our mouth is.

We have a few weeks to put that pressure on and bring one home for the cause. The leaders of this community, including many of the great bloggers out there, need to wake up and make this happen. We need to both focus attention on the committee(s) involved and on NASA to fight for one of the brightest spots in its otherwise dark future. This isn't about who does the prizes or competes for them, or even how soon anyone wins, it is about the concept of trying something new with hundreds of years of proven track record, changing how we do space, supporting the fledgling NewSpace industries and movement, and showing that those of us who care about humanity's future in space is worth fighting for.

I noticed someone posted links to the Appropriations committee and its staffers. Those in the know as to how the machine operates should enlighten their readers, and we all should step up to this one.

I saw Pixel (Armadilloís vehicle) hovering above the desert [at the X Prize Cup], and it was a magical sight. Not just because it was accomplished so cheaply and by pseudo volunteers, nor that it and the tether challenges inspired so many and generated such news, not even for the looks of the amazed children in the audience, but because it signaled what is possible at a fraction of the cost of todayís old space industrial complex.

There are many who would be quite happy to see this sort of symbol just fade away, but for those of us believe in the dream of an open frontier in our lifetimes it is time to stop whining and get something done.

I urge you and your readers to take action. Organize your local space groups, spend a tiny bit of the time they use typing at each other on these forums and weigh in with those who need to feel the heat.

If we canít win something this relatively small in the battle to change our national space agenda, it bodes extremely ill for our chances not only to force NASA to implement a pro-frontier strategy, it also is an ill omen for our ability to defend the newborn child of NewSpace and our chance to move beyond governments into space.

In the next weeks I and my associates in the Foundation are going to do what we can. I ask those others who care to do the same.

Posted by Rand Simberg at November 15, 2006 12:01 PM
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Relying on the fickle Congress and backward looking NASA to fund prizes is not necessarily a good fit. Could it be that NASA prizes COTS or Centennial Challenges capture Newspace firms into the military scientific industrial complex? Should we save our powder for telling NASA and Congress to get out of the way? I like prizes, but they have not resulted in profitable service being offered yet. It is possible that prizes are a side show. They might have made sense 20-30 years ago, but now are no longer necessary to prove the market and the technology. The Russians of all people did that.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at November 15, 2006 01:35 PM

Well said! Beware the fickleness of Congress,you will always be dissapointed. Space patriots must open space through grit, gumption and perserverance. It was not Congress that thought of and financed the X prize. This simple initiative rejuvenated the entire movement.

Posted by Commenter at November 15, 2006 04:00 PM

Sorry; it's more fun to slag off NASA.

Posted by DensityDuck at November 15, 2006 04:24 PM

I don't think Rick is saying that prizes are the only thing that is needed. I'm sure he would agree that entrepreneurial efforts with hard work, good business practices, and technical realism are the bread and butter of what the NewSpace people need for success. However, prizes are a nice complement to that. They are a good way for NASA to simulate a "natural competitive business environment", since only the team that is able to pull together the business and technical factors to be able to accomplish the objective will win the prize. It would be good if NASA would purchase Newspace services it needs (Zero-G rides, suborbital rides, etc) like you might purchase an apple from the store. Still, Centennial Challenges are a better approximation of this than most NASA contracts or grants.

I also would not put COTS/Centennial Challenges "corrupting" these companies in my Top 10 list of perils for them. Centennial Challenges in particular is a small program, and would remain so even if it is funded this year. If the NewSpace companies are successful enough for this to happen, then we will be a lot farther along anyway, and a new generation can take over.

I appreciate what Sam is saying about concentrating efforts on removing regulations when they are excessive and things like that. However, I think both efforts can take place without one affecting the other much (or they may even help each other). A lot more "grass roots" people might be motivated to support Centennial Challenges than fighting some obscure regulation, for example, and maybe in the process of working on that they would get interested in the regulations.

Of course a lot of people would be even more interested if the X Prize Foundation came up with another space prize, but why not get part of NASA (or for that matter, NOAA, state govts, ...) thinking this way, too?

Ray (space prizes blog)

Posted by Ray at November 17, 2006 05:37 PM


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