Scaled Composites, the people behind the first privately-owned space vehicle, SpaceShipOne, won the $10 million X-Prize on Monday by successfully completing the second of two spaceflights within a week's time (to win the prize, a team needed to complete 2 such flights with a 14 day time period).
$10 million may seem like a small amount when you consider the huge amounts of money spent on space travel by NASA each year (even now, when they don't really do so much), as well as the fact that Scaled Composites investor Paul Allen (Microsoft billionaire #2, IIRC) has already sunk twice as much of his own money into the project. But they do fame, honor, prestige and probably more groupies than any bunch of balding, wrinkly white guys could ever dream of (There ARE space groupies, right? There are groupies for everything else these days). The money is an afterthought, really. It's the thrill of being the first people to do it that's the real prize.
Apparently Richard Branson (head of the Virgin mega-empire) was at the launch, and want to license the tech to make space tourism a reality within a few years. Well, it's about time. It's 2004, fer cryin' out loud! We were all supposed to be living in space years ago! All those Irwin Allen TV shows from the '60s had us traveling interstellar distances by the 90s ("Land of the Giants" was supposed to take place in the '80s, and the Robinson Family from "Lost in Space" took off for Alpha Centauri in 1997!), and even the Gil Gerard "Buck Rogers" show from the '70s had Buck going out into deep space by about 1990 or so.
And then, of course, 2001 rolled around, and we weren't anywhere near Jupiter. Nor were we anywhere near HAL in terms of computer technology (probably for the best, given the events of that particular film, but still... ).
Okay, now I'm rambling, but hey, the future has let me down. I want a house on Mars, and a robot dog and a Legion Flight Ring (or at least an Elroy Jetson rocket belt). Maybe a round, clear space helmet with a little antenna on top. Is that so much to ask, really?