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Sat, Oct 08, 2005

Countdown To The Cup: Day One (Thursday)

Personal Spaceflight Symposium Launched The Event

by Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

(EDITOR'S NOTE: As the saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Unfortunately, such was the case with Kevin O'Brien's article on Day One of the X-Prize Cup and the First International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight, which somehow disappeared from our queue between posting and publishing. ANN regrets the error, and we now present Kevin's complete report below.)

The first day of the X-Prize Cup was the First International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight, which went down exactly as previewed here at Aero-News. 

Jim Campbell of Aero-News attended most of the panel sessions and was most impressed with Erik Lindbergh's speech. He got many photos, which are available for press use through the X-Prize Cup organization.

The sessions were well attended -- returning from a trip to the airport, we found ourselves in a conga line of other latecomers and returnees trying to deal with an overstuffed parking lot -- and the sessions were packed to overflowing. What is more interesting is that almost everybody who was anybody in space was there -- including representatives of NASA and Arianespace (publicly) and of Aerospace/Military prime contractors (keeping a low profile).

Rick Homans, Secretary for Economic Development in the New Mexico cabinet and one of the key organizers of the event, was hobbling on crutches after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee. Speaking to Aero-News while balancing on the crutches in a busy corridor, Homans stressed that all his promotion efforts weren't about going head-to-head with other spaceports: his goal is to grow the whole pie, not snitch some of his brother's piece, as it were.

Indeed, success for the nascent space industry as a whole will do more for every spaceport, including New Mexico's future Southwest Regional Spaceport at Upham near Las Cruces, than any conceivable re-division of the industry's current spoils; the industry as a whole is small relative to its potential.

Fortunately, we were able to have this conversation without anyone bowling Homans (or us) over.

His Economic Development staffers told us that they were delighted with the turnout at the event. It's planned that this is only the first such symposium, and that more will follow.

As any organization reorients itself from a one-time deal (the original Ansari X-Prize awarded in 2004) to sponsorship of ongoing events (annual X-Prize Cup competitions, and the more frequent events of the Rocket Racing League), the culture of the organization has to change a little bit. The X-Prize Foundation is no exception.

The Foundation's organization is larger, and so there are a lot of new faces to learn, and the little things that always get tangled take a bit longer to untangle. However, these new folks come from a wide range of backgrounds that bring real strength to the organization and help position it for the events coming ahead. The same key people are at the core of things, and the organization they are building is even more robust and professional than the one that pulled off the Ansari X-Prize flawlessly (at least, flawlessly from the point of view of the public).

While there were few surprises in the symposium sessions, there was a lot going on in the corridors and side rooms -- of the deal-making, haggling, and swearing-to-secrecy type. Indeed, one such conversation changed our plans for today (Friday) but, alas, we're -- you guessed it -- sworn to secrecy.

That aspect alone -- the convenience of having one place where the whole private spaceflight world gets together -- may ensure the long life and health of these symposia. No one expects the First International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight to be the last.

FMI: www.xpcup.com, http://engr.nmsu.edu/xprize.htm, www.xprize.org

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