$250,000 Prize Announced for First Private Rocket to Space

$250,000 Prize Announced for First Private Rocket to Space

November 18, 1997 Press Releases

“If we are ever going to open the space frontier to more than a few elite government employees called ‘astronauts’, then we need cheap access to space.”

Los Angeles, CA, November 18, 1997 – Two not-for-profit groups jointly announced a $250,000 prize for the first private team to launch a 2 kilogram payload into space, 200 km or higher, within the next three years. Called the Cheap Access to Space (CATS) Prize, the Space Frontier Foundation and FINDS, the Foundation for the International Non-governmental Development of Space, want to show that space is not purely the domain of governments.

“We are trying to send a message that governments don’t open frontiers, people do,” said Space Frontier Foundation president Rick Tumlinson. “If we are ever going to open the space frontier to more than a few elite government employees called ‘astronauts’, then we need cheap access to space. The current government-based space industry is not getting us there quickly enough.”

The two groups believe this prize will incite creativity and spark new minds to think about the challenges of doing things in space cheaply. Noting that almost every current space launcher is government-designed or was originally built to serve government purposes, the groups are willing to bet that the symbolism of average people building their own rockets will help end what they see as a government stranglehold on access to space. To that end, prize contestants may not use direct or indirect government funding for their vehicle.

“From the golden age of exploration to Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, prizes have inspired imaginations and helped knock down barriers,” stated Tumlinson. “We want to find and inspire the future Henry Fords and Thomas Edisons of space…and they came from the private sector, not the government.”

The Space Frontier Foundation will manage the competition for FINDS, a 7 million dollar endowment that has fully funded the prize. The prize was announced by Tumlinson at the Space Frontier Foundation’s sixth annual conference last week. Endorsing the idea at the event was Dr. Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 fame and Dr. Thomas F. Rogers of the Space Transportation Association.