Friday, April 29, 2011

Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and the Hanseatic League

"Scientists Itching for Suborbital Space Research"
Denise Chow, (April 28, 2011)

"When private companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace start regularly flying passengers to the edge of space, thrill seekers and space fanatics won't be the only ones standing in line.

"The commercial spaceflight industry's potential to provide frequent and relatively inexpensive trips to the upper reaches of the atmosphere could revolutionize the science and research community. And even with the suborbital vehicles still in their testing phase, at least one institution is already onboard.

" 'We're a bit ahead of the curve,' Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told 'We've gone out - not even waited for taxpayer dollars. We're almost ready to fly. The vehicles aren't quite ready, but the experiments are pretty much built and ready to fly....

"...Performing experiments on private suborbital and orbital flights could also bridge a crucial research gap between Earth and the International Space Station, the massive laboratory that orbits 220 miles (354 kilometers) above our planet. Stern likened the space station to baseball's major leagues, with commercial flights akin to the minor leagues...."

The Lemming remembers the 'good old days' when moon rockets were built and launched from what's now Space Shuttle launch complex. There's a little nostalgia to be indulged in these days, as the last Shuttles ferry cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

Mostly, though, the Lemming's looking forward to what Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, and Beal Aerospace have been doing.

Beal Aerospace? You probably won't hear too much about that company. Beal Aerospace didn't quite make it as a commercial venture. It's the Lemming's opinion that some other aerospace startups won't be around a decade or so from now. Which isn't too surprising. The Alena Steam Car isn't with us any more. Neither is the Columbia Electric Car Company of Detoit. Studebakers are still around, thanks to hobbyists, but the company hasn't been around for decades.

That seems to be the way it goes with new technologies: many folks think they can run a profitable business by applying the new processes; some turn out to be correct in their assumptions; and the tech gets used.

The Lemming expected to be writing about the Space Shuttle today, but weather happened: "NASA Postpones Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch at Least 72 Hours," (April 29, 2011)

Does the Lemming think that the end of the Space Shuttle program means the end of people going into space? At least for Americans?

Not hardly.

We may be near the end of the era where a huge federal bureaucracy runs a moderately-successful freight and passenger service for scientists.

But, after taking at how many entrepreneurs are getting ready to take over the low-Earth-orbit transit services, the Lemming seriously doubts that we're looking at a serious lack of options.

As for whether or not it takes a government program to get large-scale tasks done? The Lemming offers two words: Hanseatic League.

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