Sunday, October 4, 2009

When it's Time to Build Spaceships, People Will Build Spaceships

"5 Years After SpaceShipOne: Commercial Spaceflight Ready for 'Go' " (October 3, 2009)

"It has been five years since SpaceShipOne screamed its way into the history books as the first privately built and financed manned craft to reach space. While that roar from the ship's rocket engine has long since dissipated, the aftershocks from its suborbital space shots are still being felt.

"Roaring upward over the Mojave, Calif., desert on repeat flights, pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie individually controlled the craft to the suborbital heights - and within the span of a 14-day period. In doing so, on Oct. 4, 2004, the $10 million Ansari X Prize was won - and the vision of non-governmental spaceflight became sharply focused.

"Designed by Mojave-based Burt Rutan - the lead out-of-the-box thinker of Scaled Composites and his team - and financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the barrier-breaking vehicle earned its stripes.

"Its victory was hailed by the banner: 'SpaceShipOne, Government Zero.'

"Today, at the Mojave Air and Space Port all appears in readiness for the combined test flights of WhiteKnightTwo and the sleek two-pilot, six-person SpaceShipTwo - the world's first passenger-carrying suborbital spaceliner...."

That's right: Mojave Air and Space Port. For someone like me, who grew up before anyone had walked on the moon, this is an exciting period.

From the looks of it, people have discovered that you don't need a kazillion dollars, congressional oversight committees, and the Cold War to get into space.

Sure: SpaceShipTwo is suborbital, but there are orbital hotels on the drawing board (I did a micro-review about what Bigelow Aerospace has in mind on May 12, 2008)

The article mentions a

"...While SpaceShipOne's snaring of the X Prize showcased the possible, as well as what was attainable, hubris shouldn't be the propellant for pushing forward.

"That cautionary view is espoused by David Livingston, the host of 'The Space Show' - a popular talk radio and streaming Internet program. On one hand, SpaceShipOne's victory started opening a tightly closed door for investment which is opening even wider today.

" 'That said, accessing space is not easy or dirt cheap - be it suborbital, orbital, or actually going someplace rather than just orbiting Earth,' Livingston said. 'While I believe the entrepreneurs and businessmen and women know how to kick the door wide open and establish needed space economic infrastructure to develop this new industry, I have my doubts about policy makers, our elected officials, and those motivated to hold on to old agendas that won't work for the new space economy.'..."

Mr. Livingston isn't trying to be a wet blanket, but he does seem to think that "enthusiasts, dreamers, advocates, and those wanting to be very much a part of a truly space-faring world" may start making even wilder claims - and that this isn't a good idea.

True enough.

It wouldn't take too many wild claims, followed by failure - or disaster - to convince someone in Congress that private-sector spacecraft should be outlawed. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that some of America's leaders, at least, have heard of keyboards, but never actually used one.

But I think that "when it's time to build railroads, people build railroads"1 - and that now it's time to build spaceships.

Related posts:

1 I've run into that quote - and paraphrases of it - for decades: but haven't tracked down who coined the phrase.

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