Launching Commercial Space Flight: Part Four -- Anousheh Ansari and Her $10 Million Purse

We had been looking for possibilities to go to space and perhaps find a way for others like us with to be able to do it as well. While some options existed, they lacked credibility.
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Ever since I was a young girl in Iran, I have had a deep curiosity and active imagination which peak whenever I look up at the night sky. I'm fascinated to think about how we got to this place and time, what will come after us and what else is out there. For many others the dream of space is tied to the thrill of riding a rocket, but if I could blink my eyes and be there, I would do so. To me, rockets are just transportation -- the allure is in exploring the universe.

I have also always had an inner voice which compels me to follow my dream and aspirations. This voice has been my guide in my journey to the U.S. and in rough road of entrepreneurship to successful business. Even though my Entrepreneurial aspirations were not directly related to my passion for space, they ultimately provided me the financial means to make space travel a realistic possibility. And so, having carried the dream of space exploration throughout my life, I was incredibly excited when Peter Diamandis came to visit our family (me, my husband, Hamid, and his brother, Amir, who are also space enthusiasts) to tell us about the X PRIZE.

As entrepreneurs, we knew the huge amount of work that it would take to make his idea succeed, as well as the many setbacks he would face along the way. And yet, sitting there listening to him, what was so captivating about Peter was his passion, because in the end, we knew that only passion that strong would keep him going in the face of the tremendous challenges ahead. Additionally, his vision really resonated with us; we had been looking for possibilities to go to space and perhaps find a way for other like us with a passion for space to be able to do it as well. While some options existed, they lacked credibility. The beauty of the X PRIZE was that we didn't have to decide which company had the greatest probability of building a safe and usable private spaceship, we could support all of the competing teams (and therefore multiple solutions) and we would not have to pay out unless there was a winner. The investment also offered considerable leverage, as the $10 million prize purse would incentivize multiple teams around the globe to compete, and those teams would find sponsors to invest in their technology (in the end team and sponsorship investment amounted to over $100 million). So we signed on to sponsor the prize, which then became known as the Ansari X PRIZE.

Throughout the competition, for selfish reason, I hoped with all my heart that someone would win. I wasn't sure if it was possible, but I always maintained hope -- even when the first deadline passed and the prize remained unclaimed. As a family of entrepreneurs, we are eternally optimistic, so we decided to extend the deadline by a year. When I realized the second deadline was drawing near, I still didn't lose hope. I had witnessed miracles in the past, and I knew we were on the brink of something really important.

When the prize was at last won (with less than a month until the deadline!), it exceeded all of my expectations. Witnessing SpaceShipOne hanging in the Air & Space museum really proved that we had made history. And when we learned that the prize had sparked a new industry and that Sir Richard Branson commercialized the technology... Well, that was just the cherry on top.

Now, as a member of the Board of Trustees and the Vision Circle of the X PRIZE Foundation, I have the opportunity to continue to make history using incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs. Although there are four different areas, including Energy & the Environment, Life Sciences, Exploration, and Education & Global Development, that are being addressed with X PRIZEs, I am a space cadet. I look forward to the day when the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE is won, and I am committed to developing more space-based prizes which will give us further access to crucial materials and energy necessary to solve some of mankind's greatest challenges.

Tune in next week for the culmination of the blog series, when Brian Binnie tells about what it felt like to fly in the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE winning flight!

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