The Heinlein Prize
for Advances in Space Commercialization
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis
HOUSTON, TX (July 7, 2006)
By Amy Baxter
On July 7th, Robert A. Heinlein's 99th birthday, Dr. Peter Diamandis was awarded the first Heinlein Prize. The ceremony was elating; a more appropriate culmination and beginning to Heinlein's life work would be difficult to imagine.
A stylized ice sculpture from Rocketship Galileo graced the entryway, and darned if Oscar the Spacesuit wasn't draped in a welcoming pose next to teaching materials from Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Throughout the hall were tables of Heinlein's books, displays of recipients of smaller Heinlein Prizes (primarily in China and Russia) and a glorious poster board of the cover art from Heinlein's new book Variable Star (by Heinlein and Spider Robinson, available in September).
Dignitaries from all countries and walks of life were mingling; I wished people wore "Hello, My Context Is" tags. Old friends greeted each other, but everyone seemed eager for new introductions as each brought fascinating back stories. The stunning model turned out to be an engineer; the cameraman with the long-haired rock star vibe turned out to have dual PhDs in Physics and Chemistry. The guy in the suit turned out to be the world's foremost expert on pterosaur flight, and one of Granma Heinlein's best friends for decades. And the guy in the kilt (!) bowing to the man in the kimono turned out to be Lazarus Long. When pressed, he admitted to being the Great Lorenzo Smythe (from Double Star, Heinlein's first Hugo winner) but he proffers business cards for both identities.
One of the guests introduced himself as DD Harriman, The Man Who Sold the Moon. As we were leaving the house for the airport, I had grabbed my old Signet copy of the short story. It turned out Dr. Diamandis had the same book shipped as cargo on the winning Ansari X Prize flight (and graciously signed my copy). If the slightly misogynistic mores of DD Harriman's 1940's were sanitized to 2000 standards, the tone fully captures what Dr. Diamandis is doing and has done. The man wants to space. If the governmental astronaut route won't suit, he'll fill the population's need through enterprise and go on his own ships. If the need isn't sufficient, he'll create the need, then fill it. Apropos of a wedding (and for some reason reminding me of the Sesame Street "this is your life" spoof), slides and videos from Dr. Diamandis' life preceded the award. Snapshots of a slightly younger Diamandis in an MIT dorm room showed the undergraduate who wanted to join a student group for future spacers. There wasn't one, so he created it. He had testified before a senate subcommittee that, just as Lindbergh's flight was in response to a contest for private aeronautics groups, contests breed originality faster than government contracts can. There hadn't been a space contest, so he had created it. (Of note, NASA has now inaugurated the same concept). He wished there were a university dedicated to the study of sciences and arts which would be needed in space...and created it. "Geniuses and supergeniuses make up their own rules...and do not rely on the monkey customs of their lessers". Nor on their time frames, it seems.
Arthur M. Dula, Kristen Diamandis, Peter Diamandis, Buzz Aldrin
Back to the awards ceremony... Buzz Aldrin spoke, then all cosmonauts and astronauts present came to the front of the room. An astounding 11 humans who had seen the earth as a blue-green globe with their own eyes came to the front. A passage from Heinlein's Glory Road was read describing the sword Lady Vivamus, a replica of which was then handed to each down the line. Dr. Diamandis accepted it, brandished it in the name of space exploration, then someone hastily grabbed it back so he could give his no doubt moving acceptance speech. I was bawling at this point, but assume it was really inspirational. The evening wrapped up after a few more comments. I think I finished my crème brûlée .
Before leaving the scene, I should describe the attention to detail manifested at the tables. At each place setting was a folder about the Heinlein Prize, the Heinlein Society, a DVD called "Rocket Science" ("Best documentary chronicling the space program EVER"), and a smorgasbord of Heinlein paperbacks. Art Dula, the organizer and primary Trustee of the Heinlein Prize, had gone to three bookstores and cleaned them out of Heinleins before the event. It is a testament to the longevity of Heinlein's ideas that 150 place settings were accommodated by only three booksellers. At the evening's conclusion a most entertaining jockeying and shuffling of books took place, with aficionados trying not to duplicate their collections or pushing more appropriate titles on the few novices present. ("Oohhh, I wouldn't start your 14 year old on I Will Fear No Evil. How about this one?") As folks milled around saying their farewells and congratulations, it became apparent that there was a finite time one could walk away from the place setting's paperback without having it scooped up (4 1/2 minutes, by my reckoning). Astronauts were graciously photographed, as was Dr. Diamandis, and the night was over.
The prevailing mood was a jubilant assurance that commercial spaceflight for everyone was truly around the corner, and the people in that room were the catalyzed thrust behind the dream.
I have known the Heinlein's goal was to fund a "Nobel-caliber" prize to promote commercial spaceflight since I was around 14. There have been times when neither Granma nor I were sure it would happen, and I am so profoundly grateful to Art Dula. He made this happen, he did so gracefully, and balanced the fiery Diamandis with stalwart explorers, financiers, scientists, and the touch of whimsy of which Heinlein would have approved. Wish you could have been there.
Amy Baxter is the adopted granddaughter of Robert and Virginia Heinlein
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