Press Release

Idaho Students Inspired by XPRIZE to Make Spaceship

By SpaceRef Editor
November 16, 2016
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A group of high school students in rural North Idaho, inspired by the story of the XPRIZE, are building a spaceship. Within the mission, the students are also preparing a modern day Golden Record, similar to Carl Sagan’s phonograph time capsule that went to space on the Voyager in 1977.

NASA has approved the teens’ satellite launch for June 2017, aboard the Electron rocket from New Zealand. To fund the satellite mission, the mostly-girls team, calling their project Da Vinci – will launch an eight-week Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign on Wednesday, November 16:

One leader of the team is 18-year old Erik Finman, a whiz kid who at age 15 took a $1,000 check from his grandparents and invested in Bitcoin; he made $100,000. Raising another $100,000 through crowdfunding, he launched a VR headset  that can replace your computer; he was rewarded with Time Magazine’s most influential teen award. Another team member is Jessica Millard, who now dreams of becoming an astronaut, after never before giving space much of a thought.

The student space group won NASA’s ELaNa nanosatellite mission award.

“We are teenagers frustrated by the lack of innovation in space,” said Erik Finman. “We wanted to do something to bring back the magic of the Apollo days. We wanted to create a spaceship for everyone.”

The teenagers are being mentored by North Idaho transplant, aviation legend and Ansari XPRIZE winner Burt Rutan, who designed the world’s first private spaceship, SpaceShipOne, now hanging in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. They also  have an active mentor in Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, who launched the XPRIZE to jumpstart the private race to space, which today is a multi billion-dollar industry.

“We were inspired by a new book, ‘How to Make a Spaceship,’ by Julian Guthrie,” Finman said. “Burt and Peter are at the heart of that story, and Burt is now our hands-on mentor. So one generation of aerospace heroes is  inspiring the next. and our goal is to pass that forward to the next generation.  We want to offer people everywhere a connection to space that has only been experienced by astronauts.” 

Ms. Guthrie’s compelling book was named by Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2016, and named a top science book.

Peter Diamandis said, “I was inspired to create the XPRIZE by the book, Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh. My hope has always been that How To Make A Spaceship would inspire the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs. Now that’s happening with this team of amazing students from Idaho. They are the next generation dreamers and doers. I’m thrilled that they are themselves making a spaceship with the master Burt Rutan.”

Each week for the next eight weeks, the Project Da Vinci team will announce a new feature of its kickstarter campaign, and also reveal superstar supporters. A few features involve Bitcoin, virtual reality, educational tie-ins, and a contest in space.  

The building of the relatively low-cost research satellite is aligned with NASA’s new focus on launching a host of small satellites, or CubeSats, to study Earth and space. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s new associate administrator for science, said, “This is the kind of disruption I’m looking for. How can we develop new technologies, how can we invent new architectures of missions that can go in and really do science that otherwise we can’t do?”

Press Availability: 

Media is invited to interview:

  • Students from Project Da Vinci, North Idaho Stem Charter Academy
  • Burt Rutan, founder, SCALED COMPOSITES, Winner, Ansari XPRIZE as designer and builder of SPACESHIPONE, and designer of the Voyager and other aircraft.
  • Dr. Peter H Diamandis, Chairman and founder, XPRIZE Foundation
  • Julian Guthrie, award-winning journalist and author, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
  • Beth Brubaker, educator, North Idaho Stem Charter
  • NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen

Media Contact: Diane Murphy ([email protected]); Tel: +1/310.658.8756

SpaceRef staff editor.