The entrepreneur who spent 11 years working on the first private manned space flight explains what he learned from 'overnight success'

  • XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis first had the idea for what became the X Prize Foundation in 1993 – it would provide a cash prize for any team who could pilot a manned private flight into space.
  • It came to fruition in Oct. 2004, with the flight of SpaceShipOne.
  • It taught Diamandis to be motivated by purpose rather than an imagined goal, and to respect the work behind the failures as well as the wins.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, Peter Diamandis dreamed of a world where there would be regular trips to space, even for civilians.

In an interview for Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did It,” Diamandis said that by the early ’90s he was frustrated that there was no progress on this front. During a visit to his parents’ home for Christmas in 1993, he read Charles Lindbergh’s autobiography, “The Spirit of St. Louis.”

He learned that Lindbergh’s pioneering flight across the Atlantic was motivated by a cash prize, and it suddenly seemed like the solution to his space flight problem.

He founded the X Prize Foundation, which offered $US10 million to the team that could successfully send a manned spaceship up 100 kilometers and return safely, fully intact and able to fly again. “Eleven years later, it finally happens,” Diamandis said.

And when it did finally happen, on Oct. 4, 2004, Diamandis reconsidered his notion of what it means to be successful.


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With the help of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s funding, engineer Burt Rutan put pilot Brian Binnie into the SpaceShipOne.

“And I remember that moment,” Diamandis said.

“The ship had just gone to space successfully, against all the odds, and landed.”

He continued: “I felt like I was at the top of a mountain I had just climbed for 11 years. I remember, when I looked around, all I saw were higher mountain peaks. So it’s this interesting realisation that it is the journey, not the destination.”

Diamandis said that he gave himself that night to celebrate, but that the feeling of accomplishment was fleeting. He could tell that his life would be a series of these moments, and it gave him a deeper appreciation both for his own path as well as the accomplishments of others. He realised he needed to be motivated by an overarching purpose rather than the imagined experience of a particular moment.

The SpaceShipOne ended up in the National Air and Space Museum next to the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that ultimately inspired it. It’s a fitting display for Diamandis.

“Oh, if I let myself, the 9-year-old becomes very proud,” he said. “But when I look at all of those amazing vehicles, I think about all of the hardship, divorces, the lost jobs, centuries of work, the crazy risks that we’re taking, and realising that all of these amazing success stories have had their own ‘overnight success’ story after 11 years, or 10 years, of hard work.”

After that successful flight, he began experiencing the path to achievement more fully, including the failures.

“You have to give credit to the thousand projects that almost got there that didn’t, as well,” he said.

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