Tuesday, January 19, 2010

America's Seventh Spaceport

"Florida Airport is Newest U.S. Spaceport"
Space.com (January 18, 2010)

"The first wealthy tourists rocketing into space from Florida may start their trips in Jacksonville, not the Space Coast.

"The Federal Aviation Authority last week approved Cecil Field, a former naval air station about 25 miles southwest of the city's downtown, as a spaceport for commercial launches of spacecraft like Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

" 'We're extremely excited and very much looking to the future to work with potential operators,' said Todd Lindner of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority...."

"...Cecil Field's license makes it the nation's seventh commercial spaceport. It permits 'horizontal' launches of vehicles that would take off and land like planes at the site's 12,500-foot runway...."

"...'Initially, the operations will be for your upper-end leisure traveler, the person who wants an exciting ride, Lindner said.

"Later, the market could expand to microgravity research flights and launches of small satellites into orbit from motherships...."

What? No Martian Princesses?

That's the control tower of Cecil Field, in the photo.

Doesn't look much like part of a spaceport, does it? No useless 'streamlining' or lightning-bolt logo; no green-skinned visitors, who look quite Anglo-American, apart from their complexion and silver lame' jumpsuits; no rocket ships that look like a WWII V2 with wings.

That's because this one is real, and those were imaginary: often, I suspect, made in a hurry, on a low budget.

Judging from artists' renderings the passenger terminal at Spaceport America, in the southwest, will have the ultra-contemporary streamlined look of science fiction spaceports. Even there, though, many of the structures now in use don't look all that much like something out of Buck Rogers of Star Trek.

As the Cecil Field spaceport grows, some of the new structures will probably look like something out of the 21st century. Which figures, since that'll be when they get designed and built.

Another Step Toward the Stars: Living the Dream

You may have lived your entire life in a world where bandwidth was important when choosing an ISP; when robot spaceships were exploring the outer Solar system; and the Space Shuttle was an aging, almost antique, vehicle.

I was born during the Truman administration. I remember my parents' first television set. And how amazing color television was, years later. I learned to program computers when and perforated paper tape were standard information storage technologies.

And, I remember Sputnik, the Mercury program, and the landing at Tranquility Base.

I'm not particularly sorry that the (wildly optimistic) Lunar settlements of "2001: A Space Odyssey" aren't there. Well, maybe a little.

The point is, I've seen space travel grow from a pipe dream to a tourist industry. For me, it's like living in a boyhood dream come true.

I've been 'living in the future' for quite a while now. It's not the wildly optimistic techno-kitsch festival of pre-sixties speculation: and it sure isn't the still-fashionable 'and we're all gonna die' horror of post-sixties prognosticators. (More, at "- - - 'And We're All Gonna Die!'," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (June 30, 2009))

Space Tourism?! Oh, the Crass Commercialism!

And, no: I don't mind that people who have the money are paying to go into space. Any more than I mind advertising on launch vehicles. (It's been done: quite a few years ago. And at least one terribly earnest scientist had a fit.)

They're providing capital and incentive to improve and develop technologies that will be more efficient than what we've got now.

Delta Flights to Orbital Hotels? Spaceliners?

Think about the automobile. It started out as a sort of toy for the rich. During the 20th century, automobiles became a major part of American (at least), and an important part of transportation systems around the world.

I think we're looking at launch vehicles going through a similar process. We're not at the 'spaceship in every garage' stage - and probably never will be. Or won't be for a very long time.

On the other hand, not too long ago I posted about Bigelow Aerospace's plans for marketing space habitats to international space agencies and multinational corporations.

Make the things a little bigger, add some amenities and a customer-service-minded staff, and I think we're looking at luxury resorts.

Given time, I don't see why there wouldn't be a sizable number of people working - at least - in low Earth orbit, with commercial shuttle flights serving their transportation needs.

Spaceliners? As a sort of cruise ship, maybe - but that'd be more the sort of situation we have with orbital luxury hotels. I suspect it'll be generations before enough people live on the Moon or (more likely, I think) Mars to support commercial passenger travel between planets.

Come to think of it, there's an intriguing possibility about living in the clouds of Venus. But that's another topic.

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