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A new space race

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Sep 22, 2004 12:34 am
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By Eli Kintisch: Peter Diamandis was born two weeks after Alan Shepard became the first American to blast into space, 43 years ago. He was 8 when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.

In the fourth grade, he sat enthralled as his friend Kenny gave a presentation on the planets. Like many kids inspired by the moon landings, Diamandis filled the margins of his notebooks with doodles of spaceships. He built model rockets in the basement. And he told his father, a Greek immigrant and Long Island doctor, that he would be an astronaut someday.

Diamandis got a medical degree from Harvard, but he never gave up his dream of soaring into space.

Today, he’s on the verge of taking the first step toward that dream, thanks in large part to dozens of St. Louis’ civic elite. They provided the seed money for what’s now called the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition to get private firms to send people into space.

As creator of the prize, Diamandis will get the world’s attention next Wednesday. Weather permitting, airplane designer Burt Rutan will shoot for the prize by firing a manned craft called SpaceShipOne more than 62 miles into space. If all goes well, he will repeat the feat within two weeks to win the $10 million.

And with that, Diamandis will claim to have demonstrated that space travel is on the verge of being accessible not just to highly trained astronauts, but to everyday people – bartenders, high school students, grandmas and grandpas. And it will be at affordable prices – in the thousands of dollars, not the millions.
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