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Published:July 6th, 2007 18:18 EST
What Is The Escape Velocity Of An Unladen Fellow?

What Is The Escape Velocity Of An Unladen Fellow?

By Sean Stubblefield

SOP editors Judyth and Leon dream of being the first civilian couple married in space. But at the usual rate of civilian space flight progress, it doesn‘t seem that enviable option is likely to happen any time soon. Although, wouldn’t it be cool if getting married was just one of many things anyone could do in space today?

There are numerous potential and actual economic and social benefits to be gained from extending Humanity into space, but the most significant reason to do so is because it is there.

Back in the ‘50s, futurists and dreamers were anticipating that space travel would be a routine in the year 2000. So what happened? Almost 40 years after the first lunar landing, we still haven’t set foot on Mars, and passenger flights have yet to begin. That is inexcusable--- and embarrassing. I think it is necessary to ask “WHY?” the space initiative has been so grossly neglected and procrastinated.

In Greek mythology, Daedalus is an inventor who, for his own purposes, created the infamous wings that Icarus used when he flew too close to the sun.

History tells us that Orville and Wilbur Wright, autonomously pursuing their own vision with their own finances, designed and flew the world’s first airplane.

Where is this innovative, independent spirit of adventure in regards to space flight? Where are the private and civilian efforts and initiatives to develop space flight, disassociated from military, government, and corporate concerns? Where are the wealthy private citizens who want to see what’s out there?

Doesn’t anyone with the resources simply want to go into space for the thrill and fulfillment of going… to become capable of going, choosing to go and then actually doing it? Not just for themselves, but for all mankind-- as a contribution to human accomplishment and welfare. Commercial, recreational space flights will help pave the way for establishing regular space exploration and travel, but commercialization is not the ultimate end point.

A demand exists for space tourism, yet where is the supply?

Granted, there is Spaceship One, operated by Virgin Galactic-- proclaimed as the world‘s first spaceline, which is a commendable step in the right direction. But, like a space shuttle, it is an orbital craft, not suited for actual space flight. And this is the project of a corporation, for commercial purposes, and not so much an individual enterprise. With a test flight program scheduled to begin in late 2007 for the upgraded model of Spaceship Two-- appropriately dubbed VSS Enterprise, Virgin’s “goal is to end the exclusivity attached to manned space travel“ through launching passenger flight services by 2009, but is ultimately and essentially an amusement ride for tourists-- at least in this form, at this stage.

Other than that, what other options do we have?

Following this example, a global commercial Space Tourism Movement has been sparked, encouraging and capitalizing on this idea, to become publicly available within the next decade-- but the question is, why doesn’t this already exist? Why isn’t commercial space flight already in the mainstream, rather than the eccentric fringe of novelty?

The pioneering sentiment behind President Kennedy’s speech about sending a man to the moon is just as relevant today as it was in the ‘60s.

“Now it is time to take longer strides-time for a great new American enterprise-time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.”

“This decision demands a major (national) commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel. New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further-unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.“

This grand adventure motive and motif is what keeps a society vital and dynamic--- the exceeding of boundaries. In an open frontier, we thrive; in a closed environment, we stagnate. We need places to go and see, things to do on the way there, when we get there and in order to get there. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be diminished and distracted by the short sighted interests of small minds which can‘t or won’t bother to see beyond the immediate future and petty personal benefit.

Whereas Kennedy referred to a mutual national interest, we know must call on and cater to a mutual human interest--- not funded or authorized or engaged by nations or governments. Not as a mere novelty tourist attraction or gimmicky amusement ride, but as a grand human endeavor and achievement. For the sake and satisfaction of having done it, and being able to proudly declare, “I did that”.

And why should NASA have all the fun? As we have independent film makers, why are we so lacking independent spaceship makers? Imagine the spectacular view from a hotel in Earth or lunar orbit. Surely, seeing our homeworld from orbit for the first time would be a phenomenal spiritual experience, offering us a kind of new, awe inspiring perspective.

Apparently, curiosity and edification are not considered practical or profitable, and-- therefore-- not reason enough. OK, so even putting aside “mere” personal interests, there are practical and potentially profitable motivations for individual ventures into space-- both in coordination and competition with aerospace agencies like NASA or Lockhead Martin or Boeing.

But if practical matters are what it takes to encourage us, then suppose Al Gore is right about the dangers of Global warming, and suppose further that we cannot sufficiently avoid or prevent these dangers. What if Armageddon or global toxicity or overpopulation or some extinction level event were to occur? What would we do and where would we go? This is the only planet we have… unless we find our way to other worlds, or at least have constructed space stations or bases on Luna and Mars. Which requires us to move into space, which means space traveling vessels.

That kind of contingency might be a good idea.

But beyond that, there is also the consideration of new material resources, new commercial markets and applications, new scientific research and discoveries, new technological inventions (direct & indirect) and industries-- as well as development of existing ones, new understandings and possibilities, new artistic and imaginative creativities, new areas for colonization and expansion. The more and sooner we assert ourselves into space, then the more and sooner we can and will be “out there”… the more and sooner this activity would be commonly accessible and affordable, as it becomes increasingly refined in efficiency and effectiveness.

An article called The Economic Benefits of Space Tourism, located at Spacefuture.com, advises that, “Probably the simplest, most effective way for governments to accelerate the development of low-cost space travel is to work via the civil aviation industry rather than via space agencies as such.”

It concludes by stating that, “Among these benefits, providing young people with a vision of a bright future, as described so excitingly by such engineer-writers as Clarke and Heinlein before governments established monopoly space agencies, is highly desirable. This is clearly greatly preferable to the cultural stagnation, the ‘dumbing down‘, that would be inevitable under governments which based their policies on the presently dominant but erroneous ‘closed world’ philosophy.”

How sad for us if space is generally treated not as a measure of our maturity, but of our survivability. And it would be unfortunate if we sought and valued space not because it is a place for us to run to, but because Earth is a place to run from.

Space has been fraudulently imposed as an artificial limitation that is too expensive, impractical or irrelevant to surpass.

However, in the least, the risk/return ratio balances; at most, the rewards outweigh the risks.

The non-triviality of what is referred to as The Space Option should not be underestimated, nor undermined. To invest in space enterprises is to invest in the future of the future of mankind. But how can we ever expect to “boldly go where no man has gone before” if those who are able don’t dare or care to get up off their asses and GO?