A Space Frontier Foundation press release Monday announced that the Space Exploration Alliance, a loose coalition of over a dozen space organizations, along with the Space Frontier Foundation and the X Prize Foundation, are all asking Congress to restore funding for NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program in the still-incomplete FY2007 budget. “We call on the appropriations conferees to support full funding for the Centennial Challenge program in 2007,” said George Whitesides of the NSS. (That call might be a bit premature, since the full Senate hasn’t yet acted on the NASA appropriations bill, but it may be a more pragmatic approach.)
The press release rehashes ground that should be familiar to many readers (such as the debate on the topic in the comments to this post): prizes promote innovation and cost NASA very little, even though it’s hard to convince some in Congress that unspent prize money has not been wasted. “They see the money sitting there unspent and it makes them salivate,” said Rick Tumlinson. “But with a prize, just because it hasn’t been won yet doesn’t mean it has failed. Quite the opposite.”
One question: the press release includes the statement “The Department of Defense’s Grand Challenges robotics prize, a $2 million program for autonomous vehicles, generated approximately $150 million in development, according to many sources.” A quick search this morning didn’t turn up a reference to the $150-million figure; does someone know the source of this? While prizes typically do stimulate total investment far greater than the prize purse, the 75-to-1 ratio here seems rather high.