Monday, July 09, 2007

Heinlein Centennial - The Heinlein Prize Trust

Before I begin these reviews of Heinlein Centennial lectures, let me emphasis that I'm just transcribing my hand-written notes, and it's likely that I missed big portions of talks, and probably misunderstood some of them. This is my best attempt at getting the speakers' points across.

The speaker, Buckner Hightower, is a Trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust. There are 2 other Trustees. The Heinlein Prize was created by Virginia Heinlein, and was endowed in 2003. It has several activities:

- The Heinlein Prize: The first Heinlein Prize was awarded on Robert Heinlein's birthday. It isn't awarded every year. It's an international prize. The prize is for commercial space activity, with an emphasis on commercial. Nominations are sealed for 50 years. There are advisors for different regions - Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The prize is awarded for individuals. They expect to award the 2nd Heinlein Prize in the near future. Two or three individuals are under consideration right now. The first Heinlein Prize was awarded to Peter Diamandis for activities like the Zero-G Corporation and other commercial activities. Peter's non-commercial activities like the non-profit Ansari X PRIZE and the International Space University also were taken into consideration in this award, although the emphasis is on commercial activities.

- Heinlein Archives: Archives of Heinlein's writings are being made through the Trust. They should be accessible online very soon.

- A biography of Heinlein

- A cloth-bound collector's version "Collected Works" of Robert Heinlein books.

- A drive to move the public perception of Heinlein to that of a Great Author.

- Flight into the Future contest. The presentation included posters of several Flight into the Future events around the world. One poster's wording, showing a picture of the winners, was:

2005 Heinlein Student Contest "Flight into the Future" for their work entitled "Concept for the Use of Interaction with the Earth and Other Planets' Magnetic Field to Improve Orbital Rocket and Space Systems Efficiency".

They are trying to encourage ideas on how to make a profit in space. The are also trying to bring commercial space ideas outside the U.S. to space centers. The prize is a commercial space prize for students under 30 years of age. Most of the competitors came in teams consisting of business and technical experts. They went to Moscow for the first event and awarded prizes. Two years later there was a European prize. The Russia base reached out to Europe on the prize. The #1 winnder was British, the #2 was Ukranian, and the 3rd place was Russian. The third prize round was in Beijing. It was sponsored by Chinese government officials, yet was a commercial prize for students. One of the big benefits is setting up interpersonal networks of students.

Education is the major focus of the foundation now.

Question: Are there any similar competitions (to Flight into the Future) in the U.S?

Answer: There are ITAR issues. It's strange because it's student teams coming up with commercial business plans related to space, but that really is the issue. They don't want a strictly U.S. prize, but they may have to have one. The want it to cover the Americas. They may need 2 prizes: 1 for the U.S. and one for the rest of the Americas. This is planned at Caltech.

Question: There was an article (I assume this linked article is the one they were talking about) by Jeff Foust on the Heinlein Prize. Could the prize be made more like an incentive prize to achieve a goal rather than a prize after the fact? A $500,000 prize to achieve a goal is a big incentive to a startup. If it's awarded later, after the company is already successful, it may just buy a nice party for the company.

Answer: The trust states what it should be for. The Trustees don't have latitude to change it. They support incentive prizes but that isn't their mission.

Additional Answer by Peter Diamandis (who was in the audience, and who won the first Heinlein Prize): There is an efficient capital market for startups. The reward of the Heinlein Trust is a big benefit. He gave some of the winnings to his non-profits. Also, there is a personal benefit to winning the prize. After about a dozen startups, the Heinlein Prize was the first big payoff for Dr. Diamandis. The prize will probably be awarded to people at the beginning of their careers, so it will still be a big benefit to them. The prize isn't intended, at least from Peter's point of view, as a Nobel prize in the sense of being awarded way at the end of the winner's career.

Question: NESFA prints out-of-print SF books (Space Prizes editorial comment: they do a great job, too), but had trouble with Heinlein books because of the cost, which is higher than they usually get for other authors. Who should they talk to?

Answer: See me (Buckner) after the talk.

I expect to post more of my notes on the Heinlein Centennial throughout the week ... check the "Heinlein Centennial" tag below for the latest ...