Just got a press release from the X PRIZE Foundation’s Ian Murphy about the inaugural Heinlein Prize–$500,000 to individuals helping to commercialize space. X PRIZE founder Peter Diamandis will get the award at a dinner in Houston on July 7.

The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust administers the award, which honors the memory of science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein’s work inspired legions of people to go to work in the field of space travel, including yours truly.

In the press release, Diamandis cites Heinlein’s story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” as one of his prime influences. “In fact,” he says, “I flew it as personal cargo aboard SpaceShipOne during the winning Ansari X PRIZE flight on October 4th, 2004.”

Heinlein’s young adult novel Rocket Ship Galileo was the first novel I ever read (because it had pictures), and it had a tremendous impact on me. I was then six years old, and from then on I wanted to write about space travel. I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if that first novel had been a romance….

Heinlein’s work is characterized by ordinary people cobbling together ordinary resources to do extra ordinary things–like go to the moon. In Rocket Ship Galileo, three high school students and a nuclear physicist build a moon ship just because they can. It must have seemed possible in 1947, when that book came out. Then in the 1960s, NASA convinced everyone that only massive government programs could send people into space, and stories about people building spaceships in their back yards went by the wayside.

Now, finally, in the 21st century, science fact has caught up with the science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s. Private citizens are now building space ships for real, in large part because the winning of the Ansari X PRIZE proved it was possible. I can think of no person more deserving of an award called the Heinlein Prize than Diamandis.