News / Science & Technology

St. Louis Inspires Aviation Innovation

Shelley Schlender
For nearly a century, entrepreneurs in the midwestern U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri, have reached for the sky, backing two of the world’s most famous flying contests. First, Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in the 1920s. Then, in 1996, the XPRIZE, which led to the world’s first private reusable manned spacecraft.

Making dreams fly

St. Louis entrepreneur Gregg Maryniak enjoys spending time at a mid-size airport watching single engine planes rumble into the sky. He says similar airplanes, and a book about them, ignited his passion for making dreams fly.

"I read 'The Spirit of St. Louis,' and within a year, I was taking flying lessons," Maryniak said. "I was one of those kids that would spend all the money I would make pushing lawnmowers and doing various other odd jobs to pay for an hour of dual instruction in a plane."

The book that supercharged Maryniak’s ambition is about Charles Lindbergh. In 1927, the lanky young pilot entered a contest that promised $25,000 to the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris.

Many pilots had died attempting the 5,800-kilometer flight. Lindbergh’s lack of connection with prestigious aviation efforts led journalists to call him "the flying fool."

But financial backers from St. Louis believed in him. In their honor, Lindbergh named his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis” and won the prize.

Modern aviation

Maryniak says Lindbergh’s success opened the door for modern aviation.

"Within a year, the number of pilots in America triples, the number of airplanes quadruples," he said. "And the number of people buying tickets to go on commercial flights goes up 30 fold."

That $25,000 prize was a surprisingly small investment to spawn today's $500 billion aviation industry. And Maryniak plays a big part in a futuristic wing of that industry.

In the early 1990s, he and his friend, entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, proposed a new contest, to inspire private companies to develop better planes - for space.

"Everybody knew, quote unquote - that only NASA and the Russians, at the time we announced the prize, could send people to space," Maryniak said. "We knew that wasn’t true. In fact, we’d been stymied by people’s beliefs that only governments could do this. We really wanted to change that."

For start-up funds, Maryniak headed to where Lindbergh had gone 70 years earlier - St. Louis.

"I think in most cities, we would have been launched into space by the toe of people’s boots, but not here in St. Louis," said Maryniak. "We got the initial seed money that allowed us to start the foundation."

Benefiting mankind

The XPRIZE Foundation’s mission is to create public competitions, designed to kickstart technologies that benefit mankind.

In 1996, the head of NASA and 20 astronauts joined Diamandis as he stood beside St. Louis’s landmark of soaring ambition - the 200 meter high Gateway Arch - and issued a challenge.

"This $10 million award will be going to the winner, which is the first team to do the following - to privately build a spaceship. Privately finance that ship. Carry three individuals, and do that twice inside of two weeks," Diamandis said.

More than two dozen national and international teams entered that first XPRIZE competition. In 2004, the Scaled Composites company won with a plane named SpaceShipOne.

Since then, many companies have designed better ways to fly people and cargo into space. Other XPRIZES have spurred innovations ranging from more fuel efficient cars to oil spill cleanups. A current prize challenges entrepreneurs to put robots on the moon.

These days, the XPRIZE headquarters are in California, but Maryniak continues to live in the city that first believed in Lindbergh, and in the XPRIZE.

"There’s nothing special in the water in places like Silicon Valley or even St. Louis that makes entrepreneurship possible," he said. "I think it has to do with the spirit of the community."

Maryniak travels frequently, looking for other communities ready to tackle possibilities just out of view, with an XPRIZE.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs