From the page: Why do you think prizes work?
First, as humans, we're genetically predisposed to compete; we do it in sports and in business. That's what encourages us to take risks, which drives breakthroughs. Secondly, if you're going to try to do something on your own that's considered audacious or outlandish and you fail, people say, "Look at that stupid idiot who tried that crazy thing." However, if a third party puts up, as an objective, a very difficult goal, which you attempt but fail to achieve, then it's, "Good try old chap, too bad you didn't make it." The psychology of the prize changes the way society views you as a risk taker.
How do you scale up a prize into something that's useful to society?
When we design a prize, it's really important that the prize deliver a team and technology to a point where a business can then take off. It's of zero interest to me to have a competition where the result ends up in a record book or on a museum shelf. For us, success means there's an industry launched on the heels of a very visible achievement.
The Ansari X-prize was intended to launch a space tourism industry. As Apollo fades into history, are you worried that interest in space is diminishing?
I think I'm glad to see Apollo recede into the past because we've hung our hats on the Apollo legacy for far too long. It's important to get people to relate to space in an exciting way today. I think that means making space a personal experience, not a third-hand experience. The other thing we need is to have the first "Netscape" event - the first company that makes a lot of money at it. That will bring in capital, and capital will fuel additional risk-taking that will drive us forward.
Speaking of risk, your business Zero G offers parabolic airplane flights for 'space tourists' who want to experience freefall - including Stephen Hawking in 2007. What was it like to put Stephen Hawking in zero g?
From the beginning, I thought it was going to be a great opportunity and that everyone would love it. Then I had people come to me and say, "You're crazy. You're going to kill Stephen Hawking and you're going to destroy your company." But when we did it, we planned it well, it was extraordinarily easy and it was really fulfilling. After the 11 years we worked to get the company operational, that was the payoff.