LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Las Vegas businessman is plopping down $1 million to find out if there is evidence of an afterlife. Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow has announced the creation of a new institute devoted to research into whether human consciousness survives physical death.

He gave his first and only on-camera interview to the I-Team’s George Knapp.

Bigelow Aerospace’s sprawling plant is idle for now, after it was shutdown during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic due to being non-essential. However Bigelow, owner and founder, hopes that his plans to build inflatable habitats for use in future space stations could be revived.

In the meantime, Bigelow is pursuing his twin passions, what he calls the two Holy Grail questions of human existence: Are we alone in the universe? What happens to us when we die?

He decided at a young age to make enough money so he could go after the answers.

“And then I committed when I was about 12-years-old to really get into this someday when I grew up,” Bigelow shared, “and if I had money and trying to figure a way how to make money, in order to commune with other people, maybe create some kind of groups or whatever to help me explore.”

He has been funding UFO research for more than 30 years and has likely spent more on that mystery than any person in history, including his purchase of a paranormal hotspot in Utah known as “Skinwalker Ranch.”

Bigelow admits his interest in the afterlife is in part motivated by heartbreaking losses in his own life: his father, son, grandson, and more recently, his wife and partner, Diane. Through the use of mediums, he said he was able to get some level of assurance that something in us survives physical death.

“Yeah, you have this dichotomy between the brain and mind. Right, the brain is the physical manifestation, and the parochial thinking is that when the brain ceases to function, you don’t have a mind, there is no consciousness” said Bigelow. “And so, we know by a number of different ways that the brain can cease functioning, but your mind can continue. Well then, where the hell is your mind? You’ve lost your mind. Right? So where is it?”

Last June, Bigelow developed a plan to create BICS, the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies. The first project for BICS is an essay contest, inviting scholars, investigators, even laymen to apply to the BICS website to enter the contest, seeking the best evidence in support of an afterlife.

First prize for the contest is $500,000. Second best will receive $300,000 and third is $150,000. The rules and procedures are listed on the BICS website.

Bigelow rarely does on-camera interviews, but he gave us the first, in which he answered other questions related to his UFO projects. He also spoke with The New York Times, which has published a remarkable profile piece.

Bigelow hopes the news coverage will result in waves of high-quality essays to help document whether an afterlife is more than wishful thinking.

“I think, because I believe the other side does exist, that and there’s benefits if people, because I’ve experienced those with people passing over and most people of any age, you know, have people that they lose,” he said. “So, if you can, if people can be helped in the grief situation, in a sorrow situation by information, then any information isn’t something that hurts. It hurts you, it’s a good gift to have that information.”

To hear more of our interview with Bigelow, check out Mystery Wire. You can also find links to the BICS website with any information about the essay contest.