Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spacing Out

If you have an extra $200,000 and a yearning to see the world from space, Richard Branson and some others are nearing the day when you can launch. As Time magazine notes:

While Branson was hitting the beach with future passengers, his competitors-- smart, rich and innovative like him--were busily at work plotting to beat him into space. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos just tested his first prototype for personal space travel in West Texas. John Carmack, co-creator of the Doom and Quake games, is test-firing rockets for the next generation of spaceliners and lunar landers near Dallas. In California, Jim Benson, founder of Compusearch, is developing a space taxi with a motor that runs on rubber and laughing gas. (Don't laugh. It works.) PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who has a NASA contract to build a robotic Pony Express to the International Space Station (ISS), is pouring his own millions into a ship for galactic travelers at his factory south of Los Angeles. Robert Bigelow, founder of Budget Suites of America, already has a small-scale, inflatable space station--hotel in orbit, an outgrowth of his curiosity about UFOs. New Mexico wants to become the Cape Canaveral of space tourism, but six other proposed spaceports across the country are vying for business too. There's even an Orbital Outfitters store to provide space suits for civilians--whether portly or petite.


John said...

Nothing against executive joyrides into space, but its just another case against huge increases in CEO pay. Its one thing having too much time on your hands. These guys earned that. Its quite another thing having the money to indulge in such excesses.


Michael Wade said...

It will be interesting to see how the customer profile for these rides ultimately breaks down. I imagine that a lot of Trekies would be willing to sacrifice years of savings for one brief trip.

Jim Benson said...

I started SpaceDev in 1997 to help clear the way for humanity to expand beyond Spaceship Earth and its only (and deteriorating) life support system. I believe that if we want to go to space to stay, space has to pay. Taxpayer funded government programs have not made that happen after a half century and 100s of billions spent.

I see commercial astronaut-making suborbital rides as not only fulfilling dreams but also financing the way to commercial orbital human transportation, and eventually to the use of space natural resources.

It is not important to me what the demographics of space users are, as long as profits can be honorably made and plowed back into space ventures to open space for all of humankind.

Jim Benson

Michael Wade said...

Thanks for the comment, Jim. I'm reminded of the approach that zoos have used; namely, that the more people are exposed to exotic animals, the more they will be interested in protecting those animals from extinction. There may be a similar by-product in private space programs. They may generate greater public support for space exploration.