The XPrize Foundation May Just Be The Catalyst To Our Next
Commentary by ANN Correspondent Juan Jiménez
How do you communicate
something that you know the recipient of the information will not
understand unless it is personally experienced? That's the
challenge I face as I sit here and try to translate into words the
experiences of the last two days at the XPrize Cup in Las Cruces
Spaceport, New Mexico.
To put it into perspective, you would have to accompany me on a
time-travel adventure, back to the year 1485, to the royal court of
Portugal. A young man by the name of Christopher Columbus is trying
to convince the king to provide him with funding to prove his
theory that the planet has more land than commonly thought by the
thinkers of the time.
Having failed, he moves to Spain and makes his case in front of
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. They too refuse his initial
request, but to keep him from taking his ideas elsewhere they put
him on the payroll for seven years.
When the Queen runs out of patience with him, Ferdinand
convinces her to grant his request. A mixture of sources of venture
capital was put together, a contract was granted based on an
expectation that he would perhaps never return... and the rest is
Little is known of Columbus the Man, but clearly Columbus the
Explorer was driven by a faith in his inspiration to explore. The
point of the trip, however, is not to examine Columbus. What I want
to show you is the people who learned of Columbus' plans, who saw
his passion and who knew that this man would do something that
could change the history of homo sapiens forevermore.
During these two days I saw and experienced some extraordinary
things. I cannot remember the last time I attended an activity like
this one, along with thousands of schoolchildren of all ages, and
could not find a single one who appeared to bored or
Struck by the uniqueness of the situation, it ocurred to me I
should ask the adults who were participating in, sponsoring and
organizing the event what their reasons were for their actions, and
see if I could find a common factor to tie them all together.
It didn't take long to uncover it. Wes Oleszewski, creator of
Klyde Morris the aviation ant and Dr. Zooch's Rockets put it into
words early on when he said "Space flight is as much about
inspiration as it is about exploration."
Around the corner from the modest booth where Oleszweski was
drawing kids of all ages to his model rocket kits, Northrop Grumman
had erected one of their fancy displays, including the requisite
plasma TV's with flashy videos, and a model of the Apollo Lunar
Three members of the Northrop Grumman marketing and PR
organization were gathered around a table -- Alan Ladwig, Richard
Bent and John Vosilla -- so I asked them about their presence at
the XPrize Cup. Northrop is a major sponsor for the XPrize
Foundation, and their funding provides the Foundation with the
means to organize activities such as the NASA challenges.
After talking about the benefits of funding private innovation
through these activites and contests, I asked them about the
children. It was as if I had flicked a switch -- all three's eyes
grew wide and I could see I had struck a chord.
"XPrize directly engages the public," said Ludwig. Northrop
Grumman's presence at the activity is about more than just money
and sponsorship, or even about the opportunity to perhaps acquire
some useful new technology, he added. "It's about increasing
knowledge through inspiration."
The theme of inspiration, I discovered, was more than just talk.
Everyone I talked to clearly understood that some of those children
visiting the Spaceport on a Friday morning would become the future
rocket and space scientists of the future. Sure, the teams vying
for the prizes associated with the challenges would bring new
ideas, but the real value was in putting the seed of the idea of
space travel into the minds of the visiting students.
Something else made a big impression on me. XPrize did a
wonderful job of using empty cargo containers into giant displays
covering just about every aspect of space exploration, including
its history. As I walked by a display of the moon and the Apollo 11
mission, one child turned to his dad and said "We've been to the
Columbus got his money and left on his trip, but it took years
of work and perseverance to achieve his goals. Even after all
that work, what he is best remembered for is not even what he
thought he had set out to accomplish. There's a lot of work that
still needs to be done, but I believe this weekend, somewhere in
the Las Cruces Airport, we just produced a new crop of explorers of
the caliber of Columbus.