The Sciences

Barnstorming the final frontier

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMar 19, 2010 5:58 PM


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In the first part of this post, Researching at the edge of space, I talked about the scientific frontier about to be opened up by suborbital flights up to 100 km (62 miles) above the Earth's surface. The possibilities for science are exciting... but at the meeting I attended about these rockets, there was something else going on. And as interesting as the science involved with this will be, there was something bigger on everyone's mind. At the meeting, the electricity about it was palpable, and it was obvious what it was. We are at the very threshold of easy, inexpensive access for humans to space. At $200,000, a flight to the edge of space is cheap. That's well within the budget for a lot of people on this planet. Not me personally (dagnappit) but I know people who can afford that. And hundreds of human beings across the world have signed up. This isn't make believe. No, this is quite real. So real, in fact, that Alan Stern and Dan Durda, both friends of mine, both astronomers, and both men with their eyes firmly planted on the skies, created this video. You really, really need to see this. They also have a followup video about the training of the first class of citizen astronauts as well. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic will probably be the first company to launch private citizens into space. They have already sold 300 seats and have deposited $39 million in advance sales! At the meeting, Steven Attenborough with VG said that they expect Space Ship 2 to do a "drop test" (literally be hoisted up to 50,000 feet and dropped by an airplane for a test landing) in the fall of 2010, and undergo its first power tests by the end of the year. Humans will then be loaded up and sent into space in 2011. That's next year. People always lament that we're past the year 2000 and we still don't have flying cars. Personally, I don't trust 95% of the people driving on the ground, let alone in the air. But it doesn't matter, because the future is here. It's now. Next year, people will be flying into space. Into space. This is beyond cool. This is fantastic! No, scratch that. The base root of that word is fantasy, and this is as real as it gets. While a lot of people have been whining about how the future never comes, my friends and a lot of others will soon be strapping themselves into rockets and making the dreams of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and millions of others come true. Per ardua ad astra. Hodie.

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