Peter Diamandis: Entrepreneur reaches to skies to benefit Earth

Peter Diamandis stands at a whiteboard in an empty conference room at Moffett Field and excitedly sketches a diagram of the solar system, with messy lollipop-like dots for Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. His eyes light up when he draws a certain asteroid known to come close to Earth every few years.

"We're going to send out a flotilla of small spacecraft, dock on the asteroid, prospect it and lay claim to it," Diamandis said. "The goal is to make rocket fuel from a class of asteroids rich in hydrogen and oxygen, and use 3-D printers in space to build the equipment to mine the rock for rare metals like platinum."

The benefits, he said, will be nothing less than protecting planet Earth, creating the world's first trillionaires, and paving the way for humans to live off the planet.

"About 50 percent of near-Earth asteroids are easier to reach than getting to the moon's surface and back," Diamandis said. "It hasn't been attempted. That's fine. A lot of stuff I've done has never been attempted."

Diamandis is an aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and lifelong lover of space who grew up on New York's Long Island in the era of Apollo 11, made award-winning rockets as a kid and once cracked a friend's swimming pool while testing the chemical reactions of potassium perchlorate.

Founded 15 companies

He has helped found 15 companies and two universities, including Singularity U, an incubator for entrepreneurs. And through the X Prize Foundation, Diamandis offers multimillion-dollar incentive-prizes to people who can solve or alleviate some of humanity's biggest challenges, from ocean health and genome sequencing to more efficient cars and increasing happiness through biometrics.

"Peter has a really unique ability to convince people about participating in a new idea or a new venture because of its pivotal importance to the future of humanity," said Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering and artificial intelligence at Google and co-founder of Singularity U. "He's strong in motivation because what he says is true."

Hollywood producer and space enthusiast Bob Weiss was introduced to Diamandis in 1996 by a friend who said, "I've met a guy some people think is crazy but I think you two would get along." Laughing, Weiss, now president of the X Prize, said, "My verdict now? Peter is brilliant, not crazy. He is 100 percent committed to what he believes in, and he won't stop until he hits a wall. Then he'll go around the wall, or under the wall or find a way through the wall."

Diamandis, 53, divides his time between his home in Santa Monica and his work in the Bay Area and commutes by piloting his own Cirrus SR22T. In person, Diamandis buzzes with energy and gadgetry. His Samsung Galaxy Note 3 watch beeps with texts, e-mails and an occasional call from his wife of nine years, Kristen, who was an artist and creative director at 20th Century Fox when they met.

"Dick Tracy is alive," he said, smiling and apologizing for the phone distractions.

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