The Next Stage of Space Travel
A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to be given a hard hat tour of Spaceport America. This is where the next stage of space travel will begin in the next 18 months. This is where the dream of private citizens flying into space will be realized.
Spaceport America is in New Mexico, near the White Sands Missile Range. This is where Virgin Galactic chose to place its global headquarters and lead the initiative to give private citizens the opportunity to realize the dream of space travel. Within the next two years, citizens will have the opportunity to embark on the ultimate flight. Granted, for the first few years, these flights will only be available to the wealthy, as the cost will be out of reach of the average citizen. That said, the opportunity for private space travel is about to begin, and as it progresses, costs will come down.
Spaceport America came about because both entrepreneurs and public officials in New Mexico saw the opportunity to create something futuristic that would bring both revenue and recognition to the state. It would also create a new high-tech hub of activity, innovation, adventure and dreams that is truly of the 21st century. What could be more emblematic of this new century and more inspiring than to host the next stage of human space travel? This is an embrace of the future by a forward-facing state.
In addition to this embracing of the future by the powers in the state, there are other reasons why Spaceport America is where it is. First, it is located a mile above sea level, unlike Cape Canaveral in Florida. The saying that the “first mile is free” is both trite and very true. Second, Spaceport America is next to the White Sands Missile Range, which is the largest commercial no-fly zone in the U.S. and the U.S. government’s largest piece of contiguously owned land on the continent.
Initially, Virgin Galactic will have aircraft that will take a spacecraft up to a sub-orbital altitude and then release the craft for a gradual descent to the Spaceport. There is a great video of the aircraft landing for the first time at Spaceport America on Oct. 22, 2010, along with comments from Sir Richard Branson at the Virgin Galactic website: http://www.virgingalactic.com/. Don’t forget to sign up for a space flight!
Sputnik was launched in 1957, and in the 53 years since, space exploration and travel has been solely the realm of governments. Sure, private industry thrived as suppliers to the governments around the world, but the administration of human space travel was strictly under the control of government space agencies. So 20th-century space travel was governmental.
As we have entered the 21st century, NASA has increasingly become a significant jobs project for several states, both with actual employees and as a source of revenue for companies of the military industrial complex. The high level of adventure and discovery has subsided. I have no doubt it will be resurrected in a new 21st-century form with new visions of space exploration. However, while all that is being sorted out by the body politic in this time of financial restraint, it is time for private space travel to take center stage.
Private space travel will not only allow non-astronauts to regularly sample limited space travel, it will also bring the entrepreneurial efficiencies of the private sector to an area that has grown bloated and dull. Expect innovation and a redefined vision of what space travel is.
So, welcome to Spaceport America, the center stage of private space travel!