Washington, DC, February 20, 2004 – The Space Frontier Foundation hailed the inclusion of cash prizes for space technology breakthroughs and accomplishments in the proposed 2005 NASA budget as a great first step to changing the way America engages in space exploration and development. Urging Congress to support the idea, the Foundation, which has called for exploration prizes for over a decade, cited language in the proposed NASA budget that would allocate $20 million to be used as “awards” under the “Centennial Challenge Program” and agrees it can truly lead to “revolutionary, breakthrough accomplishments that advance solar system exploration and other NASA priorities.”
“This might be the most important item in the proposed NASA budget,” stated Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. “Taxpayers’ money will at last be paying for real results, rather than dead-end projects that never seem to get anywhere, or don’t meet their proposed goals. To win a prize for something, you must have already accomplished the task.”
Throughout history, prizes have produced many times their worth by generating activity in a wide range of technologies. Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight was inspired by one of many prizes offered in the area of aviation – that led to today’s airline industry and advanced the state of flight technology. The Royal Navy offered a prize in the 18th century that led to a major breakthrough in ocean navigation – helping them dominate the oceans for decades. Currently, the X-Prize has generated a global race to fly humans to the edge of space, resulting in the creation of more than a dozen companies building small rocketships.
“Prizes work!” said Tumlinson. “But if they are to produce real and revolutionary results, they need to be clear, challenging, and exciting enough for people to invest their time and money to win. We hope NASA doesn’t squander this opportunity by focusing on small technical advances. The prizes need to be for big accomplishments, for example, the first private spacecraft to orbit or land on the Moon.” He continued “Imagine the excitement a commercial race to land robots on the Moon would create. The return to the government in terms of information, new systems and new vendors would be enormous. If these prizes are structured right, this will be the beginning of a new era in space exploration.”
The Foundation points out that NASA funds for a return to the Moon are extremely tight, and feels the agency should focus all of its efforts on things that only it can do, while handing off other tasks to the private sector. Other possible prizes could be awarded for demonstrating a closed life support system that can sustain human beings for a long period of time, or equipment to extract and process possible Lunar ice into air, water and rocket propellant. Each of these efforts, if conducted by the agency, could cost hundreds of millions, but small prizes of a few million dollars might produce some of the same results, kick start several efforts, bring a huge amount of positive publicity to the agency and inspire a large number of students and others to get involved in the space technology field. All of this while freeing desperately needed funds for NASA’s main mission of returning humans to the Moon.
“We salute those at NASA who are working on this idea to allow the public to truly get involved in the effort to return to the Moon. They have recognized how important it is to let the rest of America join the team,” said Tumlinson. “I am glad to see the White House and Administrator O’Keefe backing this idea by including it in the proposed NASA budget. It shows true leadership. They have recognized that it will cost the taxpayers potentially hundreds of millions if NASA does this type of thing itself, money that could be better spent on putting human feet on the Lunar surface.”