April 09, 2004



The Space Age Begins

No, not 47 years ago with Sputnik.

Yesterday, a pilot named Peter Siebold flew a rocket-powered craft to a height of 105,000 feet, reaching a speed of just over Mach 2. It sounds like one of the daring rocket plane test flights that the Air Force conducted in the 50's and 60's, but there's a difference.

A huge difference.

The flight was not funded by any government. It was approved by the US government — specifically, the FAA. In fact, it was the first sub-orbital rocket flight ever to be licensed by the FAA. In a few days, I'll be flying from Denver to New York. The flight I'm booked on is also FAA-approved.

Of course, these two flights are pretty different. But they have something in common with each other that Siebold's flight does not have with the aforementioned rocket test flights of years gone by. Both are private ventures, activities that the government may regulate, but that private citizens and private industry create and manage.

Space travel is no longer a government monopoly.

I reiterate: the Space Age has begun.

Posted by Phil at April 9, 2004 11:47 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Yes! This must happen! We can't wait for the government. The book that I blame for my cuurent compulsive need to write the science fiction in every spare moment is "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell. (In which, the government sits on its butt after getting a radio signal from the Vegan system, so Jesuit priests decide it's God's will to make first contat. They hire a private Japanese company to hollow out an asteroid and turn it into a space ship. They fly off into space and destroy another culture) ... oh well.

Posted by: Kathy at April 9, 2004 08:21 PM

Hmm, I'll have to read this book, but I'm picking up some bad vibes. From what I read of reviews, it sounds like the story is weakened by to some bad memes from academia/religion (eg, handwringing about why bad things happen to people) and some annoyingly coy (and/or heavy handed) rhetorical tricks. And it's too long. What do you think of the book?

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at April 11, 2004 11:12 AM

Was this flight sufficient to represent half what is required to win the X-prize?

And if it is, will they try to fly again quickly and claim it?

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 11, 2004 12:08 PM

Okay, the article answered my x-prize question. This flight was to 110,000 feet.

"The X Prize Foundation of St. Louis, Missouri will award $10 million to the first company or organization to launch a vehicle capable of carrying three people to a height of 62.5 miles (about 330,000 feet), return safely to Earth, and repeat the flight with the same vehicle within two weeks."

This flight is not half of the X Prize requirement. They are working up to it.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 11, 2004 12:15 PM

One must wonder what will happen to NASA when these companies acheive their goal - how will the justify their enormous budget if small entrepeneurs can do similiar feats at a fraction of the cost?

Posted by: ChefQuix at April 11, 2004 01:36 PM

One must wonder what will happen to NASA when these companies acheive their goal - how will the justify their enormous budget if small entrepeneurs can do similiar feats at a fraction of the cost?

There is a good way that NASA can justify it. Namely, if they're enabling US industry to develope in space. That should be worth a lot more coin than the glory missions that occasionally get kicked around.

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at April 11, 2004 02:55 PM

They aren't really doing that when the cost is prohibitively expensive. If private commercial spaceflight becomes viable I would personally like NASA to redirect it's efforts to more long term science - like the Space Elevator.

Posted by: ChefQuix at April 12, 2004 11:31 AM

They aren't really doing that when the cost is prohibitively expensive. If private commercial spaceflight becomes viable I would personally like NASA to redirect it's efforts to more long term science - like the Space Elevator.

Space flight doesn't have to remain "prohibitively expensive".

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at April 18, 2004 07:23 PM

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