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

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora