The Day Commercial Spaceflight Took Off: October 4 Marks Fifth Anniversary of $10 Million Ansari X PRIZE

Press Release From: X Prize Foundation
Posted: Friday, October 2, 2009

image X PRIZE Foundation Leads the Field in Prize Competitions and Radical Breakthroughs for the Benefit of Humanity

PLAYA VISTA, California - On October 4, 2009, the X PRIZE Foundation will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the largest prize in history, the $10 Million Ansari X PRIZE - won by the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team for the historic flights of SpaceShipOne. Led by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Mojave Aerospace Ventures was the first private team to build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth's surface twice within two weeks. The team made world history when it achieved this feat on the anniversary of the historic launch of Sputnik in 1957 - the first man made object that entered earth's orbit and opened the space age.

When SpaceShipOne touched down on October 4, 2004 and won the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE, a new billion dollar industry was born and Spaceflight was no longer viewed as the exclusive realm of governments.

Today, SpaceShipOne is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum as a milestone of flight achievement next to Charles Lindbergh's plane, The Spirit of St. Louis. It was Lindbergh's flight that inspired the Ansari X PRIZE.

"The success of the Ansari X PRIZE has proven that incentivized competition stimulates growth in industries that have the potential to benefit the entire world," said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis. "I think ultimately it gave the Ansari X PRIZE teams around the world permission to dream and dare to think about building private spaceships. By creating the structure of the competition, it validated the importance and the viability of private spaceflight."

Sharing the same belief as Diamandis that a safe, usable private spaceship could be built, Anousheh Ansari, and her family signed on to become the title sponsor of the $10 million X PRIZE. The funding toward the title sponsorship resulted in over $100 million spent by teams vying to do what Mojave Aerospace Ventures was ultimately able to achieve. Shortly after the awarding of the Ansari X PRIZE, Ansari achieved another first and became the first female private space explorer spending a week aboard the International Space Station. Continuing to believe in creating advancements for humanity through incentivized competitions, Ansari and her brother, Amir, are members of the X PRIZE Foundation's Vision Circle and Board of Trustees.

"Being a title sponsor for the Ansari X PRIZE was one of the best philanthropic investments my family has ever made," said Anousheh Ansari. "It was wonderful to see how our money was leveraged almost ten to one and to see so many teams from all over the world compete for the prize. It is one of our proudest moments to know that we played a role in making this historical event happen and that we are a part of that history."

Following the success of the Ansari X PRIZE, the X PRIZE Foundation, whose mission is to "bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity," was inspired to expand its focus beyond space to include developing and managing competitions in four key prize groups: Exploration (Space and Oceans), Energy & Environment, Life Sciences and Education & Global Development. Currently, there are, three active competitions to spur innovation that have been launched by the X PRIZE Foundation:

  • Archon X PRIZE for Genomics - $10 million prize for the first team to successfully sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for less than $10,000 per genome
  • Google Lunar X PRIZE - $30 million purse for the first privately funded teams to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth
  • Progressive Automotive X PRIZE - $10 million prize for the teams that can demonstrate an automobile which is fast, safe, manufacturable, affordable and exceeds 100 MPGe (energy equivalent) fuel economy

In addition, the X PRIZE Foundation created and operates the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in cooperation with NASA (who provides the $2 million purse). The goal of the competition is to build an industry of American companies capable of routinely and safely flying vertical take-off and landing rocket vehicles useful both for lunar exploration and for other applications. The prize is part of an effort to jumpstart "Moon 2.0," a new era of sustainable lunar exploration that involves international partnerships between government space agencies and entrepreneurial firms.

The X PRIZE Foundation continues to further explore future competitions through its prize development. Prize concepts include:

  • Health X PRIZE - This prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates a new set of health care incentives that drive increased community wellness as demonstrated by a drop in sick days and hospitalizations and increase in health status by 50% or more over a 3-year period.
  • TB Diagnostics - This prize would be awarded to the team that creates a set of accurate, rapid and easy to use point-of-care diagnostics for tuberculosis in developing countries. . Ocean X PRIZE Suite - Focusing on research, exploration, conservation and healing to improve life on Earth, the suite of ocean prizes includes the development of a commercially viable alternative to petroleum based plastic that is ocean degradable. Also in development is an ocean exploration prize to increase ocean knowledge with the capacity to directly impact our relationship with the marine world.
  • Energy and Environment X PRIZE Suite - The suite consists of prizes that will end our addiction to oil and stem the harmful effects of climate change. The Foundation is looking for breakthroughs in clean fuels, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, carbon reduction, and sustainable housing.

The Foundation has an ongoing goal of launching one or two prizes per year in areas where innovation is stalled or market failures exist.

As noted in a recent McKinsey & Company report, "prizes attract diverse groups of experts, practitioners, and laypeople - regardless of formal credentials - to attempt to solve difficult problems, dramatically expanding the pool of potential solvers and lower the cost of attempting or recognizing solutions." Further, "prizes highlight and elevate superlative behaviors, ideas, and achievements in order to motivate, guide, and inspire others. Identifying excellence remains the cornerstone of many prizes - the essence of their power to produce change."

Robert K. Weiss, President and Vice Chair stated, "We had hoped that a private space industry would be created within a few years of the Ansari X PRIZE being won. We did not foresee the reality that unfolded - Virgin Galactic started during the competition itself. The original $10 million prize has grown into a $1+ billion industry. That's a leverage of 100 to 1 from the prize purse to the industry impact; that's key to what an X PRIZE is all about."

About The X PRIZE Foundation

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured world headlines when Burt Rutan, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world's first private vehicle to space to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation is creating and conducting competitions in four prize groups: Exploration (Space and Oceans), Life Sciences, Energy and Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as the leader in fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit


Craig Nyman/Wendy Zamaripa
Kirvin Doak Communications
(702) 737-3100

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