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The X Prize
Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Nebula Award-winning science-fiction writer
Robert J. Sawyer
writes and presents a weekly science column for
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's CBC Radio One.
The columns, which have the umbrella title
Science FACTION: Commentaries from the Cutting Edge of Science,
are produced by Barbara Saxberg in Toronto, and
syndicated to local CBC Radio stations across Canada.
Recorded 23 June 2003
Host: There's not much of a space program these days,
is there? The shuttles aren't flying, and the International Space
Station is an overpriced, underperforming embarrassment.
Science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer thinks the answer to
renewing the human presence in space rests with the private
Voice Clip: Space Shuttle being grounded
Robert J. Sawyer: With the U.S. space shuttle grounded
indefinitely, you might think no Canadians will be going into
space anytime soon. After all, every Canadian astronaut who's
ever gone up has done so aboard an American shuttle.
But, in fact, there may well be Canadians in space before the
shuttle starts up service again. The reason? The Arrow.
No, I'm not talking about the Avrow Arrow, the
cutting-edge Canadian jet canceled by the Diefenbaker
administration. Rather, I'm referring to its 21st century
namesake. The Canadian Arrow is a rocket, looking a lot
like V-2 rocket from the Second World War. It's being built in
London, Ontario, in hopes of snagging the X Prize.
What's the X Prize, you ask? It's a cool ten million American
dollars, being offered to the first private-sector concern that
builds and launches a spaceship carrying three people up to a
height of 100 kilometres; brings them back safely to the earth;
and then repeats the launch with the same ship within two weeks.
The prize is designed to kick-start the space tourism industry
There's a second Canadian competitor for the X Prize, and it's
got an excellent shot at winning, too. The space ship Wild
Fire, being built by a group called "The Da Vinci Project"
intends to launch its rocket in Kindersley, Saskatchewan
although there won't be a traditional blastoff. Rather, the
Wild Fire will be lifted to 80,000 feet by the world's
largest reusable helium balloon, and then fire its engines from
Either Canadian choice is an excellent bet to win. But why have a
contest in the first place? Peter Diamandis who is a
Harvard-trained medical doctor and also has engineering degrees
from M.I.T came up with the idea for the X Prize after
reading about how the $25,000 Orteig prize had inspired Charles
Lindbergh to make the world's first solo transatlantic flight in
Diamandis says, "Between 1905 and 1935, hundreds of aviation
prizes stimulated the creation of very different aircraft
designs, each of which explored different regions of flight and
different mechanisms for optimizing speed, safety and low cost
travel. Today the X Prize is doing the same."
Music: O Canada
There's no doubt that someone is going to win the X prize, and
there are many expecting it'll happen prior to December 17, 2003
the hundredth anniversary of the first powered flight by
the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. What a great way to celebrate
that centennial and wouldn't it be great if Canadians
brought home the prize!
I'm Robert J. Sawyer.
More Good Reading
Other "Science FACTion" commentaries for CBC Radio
"2020 Vision" scenarios for Discovery Channel Canada
Media backgrounder on Rob Sawyer
Rob's novels Golden Fleece and Starplex, which deal with space travel
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