Saturday, November 14, 2009
How Free Enterprise Will Save the Future of Space Exploration
We were going back to the moon in 2020. I taught a summer camp class on “Star Trek” this past summer at my local Community College. The meat and potatoes of my class was not only Star Trek, but also a history of space exploration, where we are and where we, humanity, may be heading in the next handful of years. I told my class about the Ares and Orion programs from NASA where were going to be replacing the Space Shuttle and that, if the funding was there, humanity would be returning to the moon. Well, funding will be going to other places for now. Chances are NASA will not be able to afford the trip.
Abstract ideals such as exploration are not enough for your Average Joe to hang his hat on and get behind. No. Exploration has to have purpose, has to be a means to an end; it has to turn a profit. Historically, this has always been the case. It is, therefore, not proper for me to throw too many stones towards the bureaucrats.
So just how does one make exploration a profitable venture? Well, you’ve got to give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle. You have to captivate the senses of said Average Joe and you have to show a profit at the end of the day; a reason for reason, so to speak. Before he died, Arthur C. Clarke postulated that orbital platforms could be tethered to the earth like great swinging stones. Why? These tethered orbital platforms would have access for experimentation and tourist dollars but the best benefits would be to communication and to energy production since as this orbital platform is cutting its way through the ionosphere it is producing electricity which, in turn, would be completely green and, as long as the orbital platform remains tethered to the earth, inexhaustible. Think of how many jobs such platforms would provide for Average Joe’s around the world. Speaking of energy and jobs how about orbital solar arrays? Unfiltered sunlight, unspoiled by the earth’s atmosphere, channeled directly to your outlet from Mother Nature herself. Money made.
I don’t have the capitol to attempt either of these options but someone out there does. Don’t believe me? Well, back in my Star Trek class I also told my students about Virgin Galactic and how Sir Richard Branson was going to be putting the future of space travel into the hands of entrepreneurs instead of bureaucrats. This December (2009) the VSS Enterprise is going to be making history. Based on the technology from Space Ship One (which won the X-Prize and is now hanging in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum between the X-1 and the Spirit of St. Louis) it will usher in a new era. Space flight is now within the Average Joe’s hands. Granted that Average Joe will have to pay about 200 K for a ticket but let it be known, that is a LOT cheaper than NASA, not only that but this technology is real; it has happened and, come December, it will be happening on a regular basis. Here is Virgin Galactic’s computer generated promo of what is about to happen – NEXT MONTH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IytjSl6voP0. New Mexico is now the home to the world’s first Spaceport. Seriously.
Free enterprise will save space exploration. It is a matter of time and a matter of profit. We were going back to the moon in 2020. I do not believe that NASA can do it. With the world the way it is unprofitable exploration is not at a premium. If you can make a dollar, yen or rupee that mindset will change in a New York minute. Therefore, I say give Sir Richard Branson a shot; I believe he will have us to the moon much sooner and at a fraction of the cost that the bureaucrats are projecting.
If I could afford it, I’d go aboard the VSS Enterprise inaugural flight. What about you, Gentle Reader?