Los Angeles, CA, June 14, 2004 As NASA's first Centennial Challenges workshop got underway at the Washington Hilton today, the Space Frontier Foundation praised the Centennial Challenges program, which would allocate up to $20 million in prizes to reward actual accomplishments rather than proposals in space and aviation technologies. Unfortunately, the Foundation said, the rest of NASA's $16-billion budget request is no prize.
Image from the cover of NASA's 2005 budget. Artwork courtesy NASA.
"We congratulate NASA for spending one-eighth of one percent of its budget on what it says will be actual accomplishments rather than proposals," said Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. "If this trend continues, we foresee a day that when NASA gets new technologies, it might spend one-quarter or even one-half of a percent on real, proven hardware, instead of paper studies and pork. Although we are glad some people of vision at the agency are trying to do the right thing, the project is too small, and its goals are too limited. Meanwhile, NASA will continue to pour billions into dead end studies and projects while not opening space to the people. As taxpayers, however, we think NASA can do better than that.
The Centennial Challenge prizes are modeled after the privately funded X-Prize for sub-orbital space flight and successful aviation and seafaring prizes of the past. The Foundation notes that the $10 million X-Prize has already resulted in tens of millions of dollars in private investment in space transportation, inspired dozens of teams around the world to develop new technologies for entering space and led to the spectacular record-breaking flights by Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne.
"The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on planned or experimental vehicles like the National Aerospace Plane, X-33, X-34, X-37, X-38, and Orbital Space Plane, remarked Tumlinson (who was a Founding Trustee of the X-Prize). Now they are proposing to spend another $10 billion or so on a new vehicle program that will never fly if past results are any indicator. Yet, for less than $40 million, SpaceShipOne has already flown higher, farther and more often than all of those past X-vehicles combined. SpaceShipOne shows that prizes work. Orbital Space Plane and its ilk show that current government development projects do not.
The Foundation contends that if the U.S. is serious about keeping people permanently on the Moon and Mars, NASA must lose its not-invented here attitude, and use a majority of its funds to help spawn a new space industry to support the effort long term. It wants the agency to replace traditional cost-plus insider contracts with prizes, data purchases, payment on delivery for payloads carried into space and other market incentives and not just on a token level. The group believes that unless NASA is forced to adopt these methods, and do so immediately, the Moon, Mars and Beyond program will fail.