Out there across America are people who think the commercial space travel industry is a myth. They say it will never come, that the public will never pay serious dough to be blasted into space. They question the purpose of public space travel, as if it will be nothing but "space tourists" out for expensive joy rides.
These people were not in the lecture hall on the University of Oregon campus a couple of years ago when Burt Rutan explained just what "commercial space travel" might really be about. He and a team of seriously motivated engineers had just claimed the ten million dollar Ansari X-Prize, so their street cred on the subject was undeniable. Rutan explained it this way, and I paraphrase:
"...Commercial space vehicles carrying passengers could enter "space" and conceivably continue on around the globe before re-entering gently on the other side of our planet to a landing at a foreign spaceport that was similar to the one they had just departed from only a very short time ago."So if these commercial space vehicles could in fact be used for globetrotting, it would be a big game changer in aviation. Rutan explained that three other times in commercial aviation's history, a new breed of ship came along that changed everything:
Rutan said the first time this happened was with the DC-3, which made long cross-country legs possible. The next was the beginning of the jet age, when jet-powered airliners shortened those routes flown to by Gooneys to mere hours. The last "big thing" to come along was the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, which made international travel a part of our culture.With charts and graphs, Rutan showed that since the 747, commercial aviation hasn't seen anything that could really change the game. But he smiled when he said commercial space ships like those to be flown by Virgin Galactic and others will be that next big thing.
And for those naysayers who think this is all too far out for reality, apparently a press release from Spaceport America says the FAA begs to differ. This week, they made a big, bold move to sign-off on commercial space travel:
"The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) received its launch license for vertical and horizontal launch from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). This is a critical step to moving forward with Spaceport America, the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.If there is a more active commercial space operation going in the land, I could not find it. From their release, it sure seems to indicate Spaceport America is leading the pack:
"Spaceport America has been working closely with leading aerospace firms such as Virgin Galactic, Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc./Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties. The NMSA currently projects vertical launch activity to increase in 2009 and construction to also begin in 2009 with the terminal and hangar facility for horizontal launches completed by late 2010."The facility – located 45 miles north of Las Cruces, N.M – is a cutting edge space terminal designed by Foster + Partners, a London architectural firm. Foster + Partners has some of the most gorgeous renderings you will ever see on their site, and when this complex is completed, it will be a work of construction art that would make anyone who appreciates the work of Frank Lloyd Wright very, very happy.
Will the opportunity to get into space happen in my lifetime, at a price I can afford? Tonight, I have to answer YES to that question.