So what does all this rocket science mean for the average person? Well, for starters, it means that space tourism could be widely available before we even lay eyes on those flying cars we thought we'd be driving by now.
The developments and efforts of the X Prize contestants have both sped up the time-table for such an adventure and potentially driven down the cost. According to market studies cited by X Prize founder Diamandis, as many as 10,000 Americans would be willing to pay up to $100,000 for the opportunity to ride in a sub-orbital spacecraft -- the question, of course, is whether that fee is a realistic one to cover costs and profit. The X PRIZE chairman and CEO equates the near future of space tourism with the "barnstorming" of the 1920s, when people flocked to freelance pilots and paid them a fee for riding along. According to Diamandis, the X Prize contest is the first of three phases in the development of a privatized space-flight industry:
- Research and development - Spacecraft are conceptualized, designed, created and then tested. This stage has occurred during the Ansari X Prize.
- Trained participation - Passengers undergo training, understand the possible risks involved in flying in an experimental spacecraft and sign a liability waiver before the trip. Between 2,000 and 3,000 flights will have to occur before the safety of the process is approved for the general public, making the next step possible.
- Government certification - The spacecraft and manufacturers undergo a rigorous FAA approval process, which could end up costing up to 100 times more than the development of the vehicle before its final certification of public safety.
In addition to space tourism, it is anticipated that Ansari X Prize vehicles will provide cheap satellite launches, faster point-to-point passenger travel and same-day international mail delivery. The sky is truly the limit.
For more information on the X Prize, private spaceflight, space tourism and related topics, check out the links on the next page.