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!
[Please view the videos to the right that were taken at Spaceport America.]
Sometimes a new product will come to market that completely alters how we view the world, changing the landscape of possibility and making us see future possibilities. Whether it was the first time we listened to the radio a 100 years ago, the first time we saw a television 60 years ago, or the first time we saw someone using a cell phone 25 years ago, we immediately sensed that these technologies would alter our lives and change our parameters of reality. The Kinect controller from Microsoft is one of those products that opens the door to the future.
Kinect introduces motion capture to the general population. Motion capture reads how we move in real space and translates those movements into images on a screen. This technology has of course been used for years in movies and video games to capture and replicate human movement. It is one of the reasons video games have become so vibrantly real, with computer animation that makes humans ever more realistic. Now, for $150, this new technology enters our homes.
Kinect connects to the Xbox and can quickly be programmed to capture the movements of people standing in front of it. It can also be controlled by pointing in the air and by voice recognition. One can play sports games, learn to dance, have a workout, and see the computer-generated image of oneself moving on the screen. Kinect can map individuals so that you will be referred to by name as your unique movements and physical appearance are captured. Wow, does this feel like something from the future or what?
The human interface with technology is ever evolving. Currently, we interface with computers using real or simulated keyboards. That interface is rapidly moving to touch and voice. I often tell audiences that their grandchildren will look at them in amazement and say, “Grandma/Grandpa, you actually used keyboards?” Or more likely, “Grandma, what’s a keyboard?” (If you have a child under the age of 10, show him/her a picture of a rotary phone or a manual typewriter and ask him/her what it is).
Gamers have always used hand controllers to play video games. The last major innovation, the Wii, was a game changer in that it allowed the movement of a hand-held controller to be replicated on the screen. The Kinect eliminates the hand-held controller and makes the movements of the body the controller. This is one step closer to living in a virtual world. It is also one step closer to living in a high-touch/high-tech environment. The Kinect makes it easier for all to see a future where a lot of our functional interfaces –
such as opening a “lock,” changing the thermostat or turning on an appliance – will be completely different experiences from what they are now.
We live in a world of two realities: the physical reality of our parents and in which we grew up, and the ever-developing screen reality. Think of the word “friend.” It used to be the description of someone we met. In childhood, that meant kids on our block or the kids we went to school with. In adulthood, it was those we befriended in our professional or recreational lives. Those “real” friends still exist, but now we might have “friends,” thanks to Facebook, who we have never met in physical reality. These two realities – the physical and the screen – are now beginning to merge. This means that as we get ever more high tech, we get ever more high touch, though the definition of touch is being expanded daily.
The Kinect shows the way to this melding of realities. It does have limitations. All highly innovative products do. In a matter of two to three years, it will be looked back upon as a crude initial first step as technological innovations come cascading into our living rooms. That said, it is the first step, the first mass product that opens another door into a future that would be unimaginable even five years ago.
Welcome to the future!
The best television programming of the Fall Season! The most emotional reality television I have witnessed. The 24 hours when we watched the 33 Chilean miners lifted out of the mine after 69 days.
Each time a miner came up, was briefed, and then greeted by family, I found it hard to hold back tears. When the final miner – the shift manager – came out of the capsule, it was a moment of highest human celebration; for the miners, for everyone in Chile, for everyone in the world. How wonderful!
Think of what we call reality television today. You have the staged programs of competition. You also have the co-habitation shows, where tens of hours of tape is reduced to minutes of programming, creating the illusion of “reality.”
Then you have the “reality” of the cable channels, bringing us yet another seemingly real documentary of some ice road trucker, exterminator, parole officer or prison. Or – and this is perhaps the most damaging – cable news channels that no longer report the news or educate and uplift with stories of human triumph. Instead, they have talking heads come on and tell us what to think.
As I say to audiences across the country when asked about information overload: “If you don’t know what to think, watch cable news channels.” This of course is evocative of what Henry Luce said almost a century ago about two magazines he created: “Life is for those who can’t read, and Time is for those who can’t think.”
In this political climate of negativity, dishonesty and a lack of leadership, it was gripping and uplifting to see the successful end to the Chilean miner crisis. Here you have the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, whose intuition told him that the miners were alive, who mandated that all resources be mobilized, who, against council from advisers and experts, reached out to the world and asked for help and made an open-ended commitment of resources from his own country to do whatever it took to save the miners.
The president personally stayed for 22 hours at the mine, hugging each miner as he came out. Leadership, the human triumph over adversity, of life over death, and the unification of a country around a single mission was a collective experience we shared on screens around the world. How refreshing!
It will be moments like the 22 hours of this rescue operation that will live on in our memory and will provide hope. It will be events such as this that will lead us toward our ever-increasing global orientation. We are so connected globally that this magnificent triumph of human will, technology and mission was seen by hundreds of millions live around the world.
This was an event where we were a truly global electronic village, this time providing us with our humanity and our triumph.