The first XPrize contest in 1996 sought to send a reusable spaceship into orbit twice in two weeks. The contest was inspired by the Orteig Prize that 70 years earlier spurred Charles Lindbergh to complete the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.
Peter Diamandis, who founded the XPrize initially for space travel, is just getting started. The contest, designed to spur radical innovation for the benefit of humanity, has already expanded into building super-efficient vehicles, finding ways to clean seawater and exploring new health care sensors.
"When I think about what's a difficult prize, decades out, beyond the next 30 years, where we'll have humans on the moon, humans on Mars, I think of people visiting planets outside our solar system," Diamandis said in an interview last week to promote his new book, "How to Make a Spaceship."
Silicon Valley's biggest names have all taken their turn at moonshots, from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's initiative to cure all diseases to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's push to get humans on Mars by 2024. But Diamandis took a different approach with the XPrize. Instead of using funds to build organizations to reach those goals, XPrize creates challenges that pit the brightest minds against one another in a race for innovation.
For the majority of innovations he's dreamed of, Diamandis doesn't believe the world will have to wait 70 years. Instead, he sees it all happening within the next three decades.
He sees the average human lifespan expanding by at least 50 years, humans connecting their brains to the cloud, and cancer being cured by 2026. The XPrize will be a key player in all of it, he said.
"We're genetically engineered to do our best when we compete," Diamandis said. "It's not a surprise that we should be innovating best when we're in a competitive mindset."
There's even a $100,000 competition for selling the new book about XPrize's beginnings. Diamandis' HeroX challenge offers rewards like a flight into zero gravity for the best marketing campaign.
Reading the "Spirit of St. Louis" book about Lindbergh's flight is specifically what inspired Diamandis, and he hopes his book will do the same for the next generation.
In the book, Diamandis meets major key players like Musk and Amazon's Jeff Bezos before they created their empires. Today, all three are at the forefront of space exploration.
"Whatever I can dream up," Diamandis said, "we're gonna do in the next 30 years."