The trustees of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust have announced the first winner of the Heinlein Prize: Dr. Peter H. Diamandis. Dr. Diamandis will receive a $500,000 award, a gold Heinlein medallion and a replica of the Lady Vivamus sword (from Heinlein's novel Glory Road) at a ceremony to be held in Houston, Texas on July 7, 2006.
Dr. Diamandis is a leader in the area of commercial space exploration. In the past twenty-five years he has started more than a dozen space organizations. In 1980, he founded the Students for the Exploration and Development in Space; it is now the largest student-based space organization in the world. The best-known of these is probably the X Prize Foundation; its $10 million Ansari X Prize helped to jumpstart the commercial spaceflight industry.
At first, Diamandis wanted to be a NASA astronaut; over time, he committed himself to the idea of commercial space exploration (as opposed to national efforts). Dr. Diamandis remarks "I believe opening the space frontier is critical for the future of humanity, and making space a viable commercial endeavor is paramount to opening this frontier."
Diamandis himself is a reader and fan of Heinlein's work:
"There is no question that Heinlein's work has inspired and driven me during my career. His novella, The Man who Sold the Moon, is my favorite story. In fact, I flew it as personal cargo aboard SpaceShipOne during the winning Ansari X PRIZE flight on October 4th, 2004." (The Heinlein Prize)
The Heinlein prize honors the memory of science fiction Grandmaster Robert Heinlein; the prize serves to encourage and reward progress in commercial space activity that advances Heinlein's dream of humanity in space. As Heinlein wrote (1972):
"We are at a cusp, a decision point. We can decide to go one way, to the stars, and enjoy unlimited opportunities, unimagined possibilities, endless evolution, and eternal racial life. Or we can refuse the challenge, stay where we are -- and die."
Heinlein was responsible for bringing many original ideas to science fiction, including such down-to-earth ideas as the tumblebug (which anticipated the Segway scooter), the waldo (telefactoring devices) and the waterbed (the '60's creator of the waterbed was denied a patent due to Heinlein's prior art).
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)