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I sure wish I could be impressed with Spaceship One

By Andrew Pollack on 09/29/2004 at 08:56 PM EDT

Well, thanks to the X prize and a guy with some 25 million dollars to burn, we’ve proven that a talented engineer given enough money and a willing test subject can use existing proven technology and well known and documented science and engineering to do something already proven feasible on a scale that adds little or no value to the overall equation.

Yes, congratulations to the team for getting “Space Ship One” (as if – it should be Space Shape Another One) off the ground, into space, and back safely.

Space Ship One is not, however, a great advance of anything from what I’ve read. It doesn’t lead in a direct path to some new technology to enhance our understanding of or our ability to establish a long term presence in space. It’s the ultimate sports car. It’s a refinement to the nth degree of known concepts. It’s a fabulous piece of work. But it is otherwise unhelpful.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there plenty of idiots willing to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a Ferrari, and that Porche seems to be selling its $90,000 SUV capable of doing in excess of 160 miles per hour. That does not mean that either of these is in some way “Important”.

We do not need a space equivalent of a sports car. No, we need the space equivalent of a Land Rover – the real ones not the yuppie kind with DVD players to anesthetize the kids. We need the space equivalent of Peterbuilt or Kenworth long haul trucks that endless track the vast distances of the world with huge quantities of food and durable goods.

Sports cars are fun, sure. Economies are built with trucking, shipping, and rail service. When someone shows me the ability to haul a few tons of material at a time up and out of the gravity well and then back down over and over reliably, then I’ll be impressed.

There are  - loading -  comments....

Maybe you're slightly missing the point....By Rock on 09/30/2004 at 09:25 AM EDT
I'm not in total disagreement with you, but I do think there is more to it than
you give credit for. The point of Space Ship One from my perspective is that
someone *other than the government* was able to successfully design, build,
fly, and land a spaceship. Private enterprise. And it wouldn't have been
possible had it NOT been for the "Tried and True" science that is out thre. In
fact, that proven science is the only reason it is possible in a (relatively)
inexpensive manner (when compared to what it costs NASA).

I am sure we'll see the "status rides" come from privatizing orbital (and
eventually space) travel. But I also see this as the fledgling steps of a new
private marketplace where companies can launch, maintain, and retrieve
satellites and even space stations without government intervention.

So, yeah, it really isn't a HUGE deal, because as you've said it isn't anything
new - but what it does signify is the beginnings of the commoditization of
orbital flight for private enterprise. Hey, it is a first step - and any
journey must begin with a first step.

My own thoughts on this are...By bonj on 09/30/2004 at 10:10 AM EDT
You also have to keep in mind that it could make it a bit easier for James Bond
(007) to get into space and save us from all of the bad guys destroying
satellites and using them for evil. ;-)
it is a step on the wayBy Alan Bell on 10/05/2004 at 04:33 PM EDT
check out for the landrover of the future. I think a
sports car has a place on the driveway next to the landrover.
I love good science fiction too...By Andrew Pollack on 10/05/2004 at 10:09 PM EDT
...when its well written.

No reader of RAH could dispute that science fiction predicts and even drives
the direction of technology.

That said, behind any sf story is at least one bit of 'magic' technology you
have to buy into. This one has many. It may be possible at some point, but
like the flying car in every driveway, the hurdles are over simplified in sites
like this.

You have to get the carbon formations cheap enough, long enough, and as pure
and perfect as the research predicts, cheaply enough to make huge amounts of
them. You have to deal with wind and vibration, you have to deal with not just
centrifugal force, but also centripetal force, and the correalis (sp?)
effect. You have so many other things to counter its unfathomable.

Science says we may one day get there -- but this venture doesn't take us one
step closer.
My own thoughts on this are...By Adam on 10/07/2004 at 11:15 AM EDT
NASA has prevented private space research by supplying satellite services at
less than cost.
Read Dan Brown's Deception Point for a good case for this:
And a great thriller in it's own right.

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