The Next Era in Space Travel and Exploration Continues as Endeavour’s Final Flight Ends

The Next Era in Space Travel and Exploration Continues as Endeavour’s Final Flight Ends

Los Angeles, Calif. (October 11, 2012) — The space shuttle Endeavour will be traveling through the streets of Los Angeles to her new and final home at the California Science Center on Friday, October 12. It will bring a bittersweet end to a notable era in U.S. space exploration, but an exciting new era of privatized space exploration is already well under way.

“While we bid a fond farewell to the Space Shuttle program and the era of spaceflight it represents, I’ve never been more excited than now about our opportunities going forward,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, which has conducted two multi-million-dollar prizes, helping spur massive private investment and research in space exploration in recent years.

“We’re now in an era where space exploration no longer is only done by a few highly trained, government-employed specialists,” Diamandis said. “Since 2001, we’ve seen the first space tourists, the first private space companies and even, earlier this year, the first privately developed and operated capsule to travel to the International Space Station.”

“Sometimes, these private initiatives will work in cooperation with the government organizations that funded and conducted space travel in the past,” Diamandis commented. “Sometimes they will operate independently of government involvement and support, potentially dramatically accelerating exploration and research opportunities.”

The new era in private space exploration began in earnest in 2001, when Santa Monica investor Dennis Tito paid $20 million to Space Adventures (www.SpaceAdventures.com) to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. Many other private space efforts have happened since:

  • The launch of ZERO-G (www.GoZeroG.com), which allows the public to experience weightlessness on a special airplane that also trains NASA astronauts.
  • The SpaceX (www.SpaceX.com) development of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule that just completed a successful resupply mission this week to the International Space Station.
  • The historic 2004 flight of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne captured our Foundation’s $10 million Ansari XPRIZE when it became the first to build and launch a private space vessel capable of carrying three people 100 kilometers into space twice in two weeks.
  • Now, 25 teams are chasing one of our latest competitions, the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the largest incentive competition ever. They are building an unmanned spacecraft that can land and rove/hop 500 meters on the Moon’s surface. If at least one team can meet the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline, it will help open the Moon for private and commercial exploration and exploitation.

Pursuit of these XPRIZE Foundation competitions have spurred a flurry of investment and technological development by private companies trying to create reusable space vehicles.

In the process, they have helped create a private space industry that is an increasingly viable partner with public space agencies, so much so that SpaceX founder (and XPRIZE Trustee) Elon Musk told ABC’s “Nightline” that his company expects to be able to send humans to Mars in ”roughly 12 to 15 years.”

“The XPRIZE Foundation can be proud of its role in helping midwife this Fourth Era of Spaceflight and Exploration,” Diamandis said. “The opportunities before us are remarkable, and we intend to continue our special role in encouraging private investment and research to open the skies for us all.”

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