Los Angeles, CA, March 10, 2005 – The Space Frontier Foundation applauded the White House for requesting funds for NASA prizes to help spur innovations and accomplishments in space technology and exploration, in its fiscal 2006 budget request. Going further, they called for Congress to increase the $34 million sought by the White House, to $200 million for dramatic breakthroughs, and to set up a prize organization that exists outside of the agency to avoid conflicts.
“We are very happy to see the White House keep the NASA Centennial Challenges concept alive,” remarked the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “The fact that they are asking for more money than last year is a great sign, but it is still not nearly enough. To have a real effect on the pace and price of space exploration and development, the amount needs to be much larger. Rather than cutting the White House request as they did last year, this time we think Congress should see the President’s ante and raise it – it is time to get serious about this.”
The Foundation, which has long championed the idea of prizes to spark innovation and lower the cost of space activities, believes the Centennial Prize concept, introduced in the last budget cycle for NASA to actually pay for results rather than research and development, is key. It represents a way for the nation to inspire and fund whole new space industries. Therefore they also want any prizes to be given for dramatic breakthroughs and technologies, rather than incremental advances.
“The right prizes for the right innovations can help America leap forward in many areas of space technology, while teaching the government how best to manage a financial tool that has worked throughout history,” Tumlinson stated. “The prizes need to be big – given for major leaps forward – not just tweaks of existing technology. We are not looking for a slightly better mousetrap; we’re looking for a revolution in the technology of mouse management.”
The group is also hoping to avoid conflicts that might arise if the prize-giving entity remains with NASA, which has many vested interests in areas where prizes might best be applied. For example, one often cited prize would be for the development of a comfortable, rugged and easy to use glove for astronauts’ space suits. In this case, NASA has personnel already working on space suit development with multi-million dollar contractors, who have strong ties to various NASA centers and programs, which might cause biases to creep into the prize process.
“In the end, NASA, as well as our New Space industry, both stand to benefit from the incredible leveraging power offered by prizes,” Tumlinson continued. “Although the agency should be heavily involved in developing the Centennial Prizes and judging the winners, it might not be the right place to base the organization that manages the process. Perhaps some special arrangement can be worked out that isolates the Centennial Prize team from the rest of the agency,” said Tumlinson, “or even better, it can be put somewhere else in our government, for its own good.”
The group is highly enthusiastic about the prospect of prizes. Pointing out the success of last year’s $10 Million private X Prize and the recently announced and privately funded $50 Million Americas Space Prize for the first commercial passenger carrying spaceship, the Foundation thinks the government is being too timid. The group wants Congress to take advantage of this idea that not only saves taxpayer dollars, but will excite and catalyze a host of new American innovators and thinkers – just at a time when the nation is concerned over losing its technological lead in the world’s markets.
“Prizes work! While the government fights over a measly $34 million dollars out of its huge budget, we have a private prize out there for $50 million from just one person! After years of wasting billions on studies and presentations that often lead to dead ends, allocating less than 1/100th of our civilian space budget to pay for actual results should be a no brainer,” concluded Tumlinson. “Let’s see if the new Congress has that kind of smarts.”