by Peter Rasmussen

Big Prizes

Posted by Peter Rasmussen on March 6, 2007

Richard Branson has announced a thirty five million-dollar prize for whoever can come up with a way of effectively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a great idea in my opinion. Prizes seem to get things moving. This move would seem to be influenced by the great success of the “X” prize.

The “X” prize was a ten million dollar award for the first team who could put a passenger craft into space and return it to Earth safely and do it all again within two weeks. The craft had to be capable of carrying at least five people.

Many serious contenders took the challenge. They raised a lot of money and practical support. On the scale of things the dollar value of the prize was not that big a deal for the people competing. They already had the entrepreneurial skill and apatite for things to do with space. Does the competition give them a kind of approval to do something so outlandish? If they had set out to do this independently would people think of them as kooks?

The winning design is relatively low tech by aircraft standards. All the controls for flaps and rudders and so on are connected by steal cables. No electronics no hydraulics. Much more reliable, less to break down.

Richard Branson signed a contract for five of these to be built for his new space tourism venture.

The guy who won has been a designer of supersonic aircraft for most of his professional life. After having gotten it all to work he realised he could have done it in the 1970’s with the existing technology.

What else could we have made then with the right kind of encouragement? Why does it take someone else offering a prize?

I believe there is a statistic that there are more film awards around the globe than there are films in a given year. Can that be right?

It reminds me of an award night for junior ballet students in a small country town. At this particular evening. They organises didn’t want any of the little girls to miss out so everyone got the same prize. They all got up on stage. They all got an award. They all took a bow. And all the mums clapped.


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