Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Who's Going To The Moon? Diamandis Says Count Him In.

When President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration and gave NASA the goal of returning to the moon to stay, he invited other countries to participate.
"The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, and I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship."
(Here.) Other countries who have talked about going to the Moon include Russia, China, and India.

The governments of Earth might not be racing each other to the moon but there is somebody who is racing them. Last night at San Diego's Aerospace Museum, Dr. Peter Diamandis told a rapt audience of about 60 that his personal goal is to "finance his own mission and walk on the Moon in 10 years."

If anybody can do it Diamandis can.

Diamandis didn't come to San Diego to announce a plan to fly to the Moon. He revealed that personal dream during the Q and A that followed his talk. He was invited by the museum to speak about what he's done to help create a revolution in spaceflight. (Here.)

The personal spaceflight revolution started for Diamandis in 1992 when he gave up on NASA because he "figured out that the government wasn't going to make it possible for me to go to space." It was then that he started looking for a way to do it himself.

Probably Diamandis's most significant contribution to the cause of personal spaceflight was the X Prize. Since Burt Rutan's team won the prize by sending their own piloted spaceship into suborbital space, things are looking up for private space travelers. Rutan is building commercial spaceships for Virgin Galactic to take paying passengers into space. Other companies building their own ships include Rocketplane and PlanetSpace. (Here.)

Besides being responsible for midwifing the birth of the new suborbital space tourism industry, Diamandis, through his X-Prize Foundation, is trying to push innovation in space technology. The annual X-Prize Cup in New Mexico will be offering millions of dollars in prizes. Among the competitions will be a Lunar Lander Challenger, which will have rocketeers simulating a takeoff and landing from the surface of the moon. By 2010 Diamandis intends for the X-Prize Cup to have rocketeers flying into space and vieing for prizes for maximum altitude, fastest turnaround between flights, point to point flights, and number of passengers.

Another of his space ventures is the Rocket Racing League, which he described as grand prix style racing but with rocketplanes. Ten rockets, built by XCOR Aerospace, another private space company, will race each other by flying in their own virtual tracks a mile in the sky.

The rocket racers will carry enough LOX/kerosene fuel for a 4 minute burn followed by 10 minutes of glide. Each 60 to 90 minute race will include 4 to 6 pit stops. XCOR recently demonstrated that racing pit stops are feasible by refueling a rocket tank with 250 pounds of LOX fuel in 50 seconds.

Presently the Rocket Racing League is culling through the applications of hundreds of teams to find the 10 teams who will compete.

While the President's vision for space exploration invites cooperation Diamandis's vision seems to rely on competition. The X-Prize was a competition. The X-Prize Cup and the Rocket Racing League are both based on competition. The United States made it to the moon because it was competing with the Soviet Union. The Russians weren't up to the competition and the US stopped its lunar missions. Diamandis seems to be on to something. People will do extraordinary things to be the winner.


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