SpaceShipOne completed its second successful spaceflight within two weeks Tuesday, claiming the $10 million Ansari X Prize. While the new spacecraft is not capable of carrying large loads or even reaching the height needed to deploy payloads like satellites, the design still has many advantages over current NASA shuttles as it can be redeployed much faster. It also illustrates that innovation can come quickly when the right incentives are given, something the U.S. government may want to consider to revive the space-flight industry.
According to a press release from xprize.org, the official Web site of the X Prize competition, SpaceShipOne reached a height of 360,000 feet, placing it above the official threshold marking space of 328,000. A previous flight had been successfully accomplished. To claim the Ansari X Prize, a second flight had to be successfully completed within two weeks.
Other prizes similar to the X Prize have been successful in the past. The best known is probably the Orteig Prize, which was started in 1919 and offered a $25,000 purse to the first person to cross the Atlantic without refueling. Charles Lindbergh won the prize in 1927. Publicity surrounding the flight increased air travel within the United States by 30 percent, according to the X Prize’s Web site.
In the grand scheme of things, $10 million is not that much. The X Prize, managed through a nonprofit organization founded for this reason, was financed primarily through private donations. But there is not reason why similar prizes could not be government funded.
The American sprit of daring enterprises was once renowned, but over the past 50 years or so it has waned. Offering prizes such as the X Prize in science, engineering or other fields could help spur innovation and help rekindle the drive behind our economy.