A Space Odyssey

There are great expectations for the future of free enterprise on the final frontier in space. As the CBS Evening News looks ahead to the 2lst century, CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports from the launchpad for the countdown to 2000.

Nearly four decades ago, as the first astronauts were catapulted toward the heavens, science fiction writers predicted that by 2001, we'd be busing people to the stars.

But here on the eve of the millennium, you still can't buy a ticket to space unless you're dead.

"Celestis can fly the cremated remains of you or your loved one into Earth orbit, symbolically making them space pioneers," according to the Celestis company.

But regularly scheduled space flights for the living may be closer than you think.

"The technology for you and I to fly into space has been around for a decade. It's been here," says aerospace entrepreneur Peter Diamondis.

"The difficulty is the ships don't exist," he adds.

So Diamandis has launched his own space race by creating the X Prize.

He got support from businessmen in St. Louis, the same city that backed Charles Lindbergh.

"What we've done through the X Prize here in St. Louis is put out a carrot that says,...'Space entrepreneurs, go build these ships,'" says Diamandis.

The carrot is a trophy and a $10 million prize.

"We hope that the $10 million X Prize is going to open up a multibillion dollar space travel industry," says Diamandis.

Ten million dollars may seem like a great deal of money but some contestants are expected to spend 10 times that just to try to come up with the airliner of the future, a reusable spacecraft that can carry more than just astronauts and experiments - that can carry other people to the stars.

To claim the prize, you have to launch a privately financed mission that can carry three adults in a suborbital flight 62 miles up, land safely and within two weeks make the flight again.

A prototype called Proteus has already been given a test flight. Designer Burt Rutan, who also built the Voyager aircraft that flew nonstop around the world, believes the contest will make space tourism economical and launch an industry.

"There will be an absolutely astounding, dramatic reduction in the cost to go to space for us," Rutan says.

Most of the contestants are still in the design stages.

"The most amazing thing is how each design is different [from] anything we've done for getting into space," Diamandis says.

So far, 17 teams from five countries have entered.

"And someone there is going to be the Lindbergh of the 21st century," Diamandis predicts.

It's fair comparison. When Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight in 1927, he was also chasing a prize of $25,000 offered by hotel owner Raymond Orteig.

"He was motivated really by the Orteig prize," says Erik Lindbergh, grandson of the famous flyer.

Erik Lindbergh, a backer of the X Prize, says his grandfather passed on a lesson: "As kids we would marvel at his ability to wiggle his ears, so he offered us 50 cents if we could learn how to wiggle our ears," he says.

"In that way he taught me the value of a prize, and what it does to stimulate incentive," he adds.

Just five years after Charles Lindbergh's feat, Pan American Airlines was making scheduled flights.

"And by 2004, we expect to have a winner," Diamandis says.

The organizers of the X Prize believe there may be a trillion dollar industry out there. The real winners will be the first to make a business out of it.

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