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Sunday, October 30, 2005


I am reprinting this from the Jerry Pournelle Site. The role of the X-Prize in stimulating the launch of Rutan's Spaceship One should be well known. For an award of $10 million for the first private trip into space it has been possible to start an industry which has already, among other things, enabled Richard Branson to collect $10 million in advance deposits for his & Rutan's proposed charter version of Spaceship One.

Please note that the UK space programme (?) currently consumes about £400 million a year & is generally considered token even by European standards. The $10 billion proposed is thus just over what we will spend in a dozen years to achieve nothing much anyway, & of course this proposal would only cost money if it succeeded.

Despite the fact that that I proposed something along these lines a few years back & had it soundly rejected (post Dec 20th 94) I have been unable to see the downside of this.
A National Technology Goals Foundation

I have often advocated Grand Prizes for space development. A $10 billion Prize for the first US company to put 31 Americans on the Moon and keep them there, continuously, alive and well, for three years and a day would stimulate all the space development we would need, and build the technological base for solar power satellites. For that matter, a $5 billion prize for the first American company to beam a megawatt of power from space to the continental US for a year would be worth a very great deal, perhaps as much as our expensive involvement in the Middle East.

But in fact why should prizes be confined to space? If Grand Prizes and Grand Challenges are a good idea, why confine them to space?

One objection to prizes is that the US constitution isn't set up to allow them: money has to be authorized and appropriated, and how is that to be done for accomplishments that haven't happened and can't be scheduled?

When I discussed this with Congressman Rohrabacher he suggested a National Space Foundation to which the money could be appropriated and which would award the money when the conditions were fulfilled.

On reflection that is a great idea but it can be carried further than space. Imagine a National Technology Goals Foundation, with an annual $2.01 billion a year appropriation. The $.01 billion is the entire operating budget of the Foundation. The Foundation sets prizes and amounts. Once a Prize is announced, the money is set aside. Interest from the money (if any) reverts to the Treasury. Prize money not obligated can be added to the total so that prizes larger than $2 billion can be announced.

One suspects that for something like a Moon Colony, Congress could be persuaded to replenish the prize fund, but this is for another discussion, as would be a discussion of studying the economic impact of the Foundation to see if it's worth the money.

It looks like a good idea from here.

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