16 April 2007

Private Space Tourism by 2009?

Billionaire high school dropout Richard Branson is claiming that his company, Virgin Galactic, plans to begin taking tourists to space in 2009. Maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan is playing it closer to the vest.
"You have a billionaire funding a rebel inventor. Putting those two together makes perfect sense," said space enthusiast Peter Diamandis, founder of the nonprofit X Prize Foundation, who has known both men for nearly a decade.

Aviation history has other odd couples: The wealthy Harry Guggenheim financed the early rocket work of the loner Robert Goddard; international arms dealer Charles Flint helped the Wright brothers sell their airplanes outside the United States; telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell enlisted Glenn Curtiss, a brash motorcycle manufacturer, to help build a practical plane.

Now it's Branson, the adventuring chairman of the multibillion-dollar Virgin Group of companies, who is investing at least $200 million for a fleet of suborbital passenger spaceships being designed by Rutan. Rutan heads the obliquely named Scaled Composites LLC, the kind of techie operation where a new milling machine is announced on its Web site with an exclamation point.

Read the entire story. Branson wants to sell his new service, but Rutan wants to keep his innovations under wraps for as long as possible. Paul Allen is in there somewhere, as well. The smarter billionaires seem to be attracted to space like a moth to the flame. Branson, Allen, Bigelow, Bezos, and more have put their money where their fancies lie--the future.

Notice how the journalist who wrote the news story tries to downplay the technical accomplishments that are necessary to make space more accessible to private citizens. It is as if journalists believe science and technology are a form of magic, that anyone with enough money simply goes to the magic store to buy.

That is the real story in the US and the west. A continuing adolescent slacker mindset that persists well into middle age for most university graduates with careers in education or the media. And that is decadence, my friends, in a human world whose only sustainable future is tech-based. Of course the world would do fine without humans, but most of us would like to stick around. Given that inclination, we had better learn sci/tech like we learned to read or do arithmetic. Scratch that! Most students in government schools are not really learning to read or do arithmetic.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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