Socialists not fans of private space

By Phil Plait | July 30, 2008 9:09 am

I’m a big fan of private space launches; a thriving commercial space program takes pressure off NASA, makes getting to space easier, and is likely to ensure a long-term presence in space.

Not everyone agrees. Like, say, the Socialist Worker Online, an anticapitalist paper in Britain. They have a brief editorial that is, um, not exactly supportive of the endeavor:

Virgin’s Richard Branson is laying on a three and half hour trip 70 miles up into the stratosphere to the edge of space for the world’s super-rich, where travellers can experience just four to six minutes of weightlessness.

If you want to book your seat you need to put down a deposit of £100,000, which is a fraction of the final cost.

The damage to the environment will be considerable.

But it might all be worth it – providing they were one-way tickets.

Wow, it makes you all squishy and warm inside to read that, doesn’t it? I guess they only have compassion for their fellow man if he’s a repressed worker. Nice.

Tip o’ the ushanka to Jim Oberg.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Politics, Space

Comments (133)

  1. How silly. Do they think the governments should be letting people go into space for free?

  2. SK

    I am amused how the far left has embraced enviromentalism in recent years. Especially as the Soviet Union and the Communist states of Eastern Europe were environmental nightmares in their time.

  3. Cheyenne

    You can always find crackpots on the hard left or hard right that say utterly ridiculous things. Good for Scaled Composites and Mr. Branson to get this going.

    Also, looks like Randi is taking on another paranormal challenge. A psychiatrist that claims to be able to “beam energy out of his eyes”. If he can actually do that maybe we’ll have a new power source for space launches!

    http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/dallas-psychiatrists-paranormal-abilities-tested/story.aspx?guid={23087684-4B13-41B5-8B3C-16A915682834}&dist=hppr

  4. Lledowyn

    I’ve never understood socialism in the first place. Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others. Part of the reason that I have been so motivated to do the things that I have done is because I am compelled with the possibility of having a sizable monetary reward by the time I retire. If that wasn’t available, I don’t think that I would be as driven, or willing to make the sacrifices that I have been willing to do.

    The same applies for the privatization of space. Richard Branson, and others like him, see it as an opportunity to make loads of money. However, at the same time, they are helping in getting humanity to break free from this planet, and perhaps to go farther out into the solar system. This is a good thing, and I can’t imagine having only governments doing this.

    What Richard Branson is doing really reminds me of the history of air flight. Most of those efforts were done by private individuals with a dream, and brilliant minds. I’d hate to see such interest and innovation squelched, because it’s not done for the “greater good.”

  5. Shoeshine Boy

    Awwww, don’t be too hard on them. They’re just doing their best to keep the stereotype of the angry socialist alive. Do you think they wear olive-drab fatigues and berets?

  6. Kurt

    They are NOT protesting the space flights. You have to read between the lines.
    They are really protesting the super wealthy-a few of which might go on some of these space flights.
    “If you want to book your seat you need to put down a deposit of £100,000, which is a fraction of the final cost”

  7. Mike R.

    The only way most of us will ever get to space is for pioneering companies to make it possible…. then affordable. Their desire to expand their customer base will bring down costs. It’s a totally different goal than a government has. Eventually space will be inexpensive enough that we will have industrial activities in orbit, on the moon, and further out.

  8. justcorbly

    Just one more example of belief trumping reality.

    On private space: It’s a long way from Bransonian stunts to real and profitable business in space. I don’t count coasting to 100 kilometers as legitimate space travel.

    On socialism: By definition, the market will only provide goods or services that are profitable. When people want or need goods or services that the market cannot provide, other approaches must be taken.

  9. Dave M

    “I am amused how the far left has embraced enviromentalism in recent years. ”

    Here’s a hot tip for you; environmentalism is not a “far left” stance, and hasn’t been for decades. If you think it is, it is you his “far right”.

    Regarding the Virgin Space Flights and the Socialist Paper, c’mon Phil, are you really arguing that the Virgin flights are useful in any way? What the paper says is true, the whole thing is a giant waste of resources. It’s a glorified rollercoaster. I’m all for having fun but I have to say I agree with the paper that the whole thing is stupid. It’s not furthering real meaningful space exploration or science in any way.

    That said, neither I nor that paper are advocating that Virgin or its potential clients be barred from what they want to do. So why are you getting pissy?

  10. RL

    It seems appropriate to quote the great (albiet fictional) Zefram Cochran:

    “You want to know what my vision is? Dollar signs, money. I didn’t build this ship to usher in a new era for humanity. You think I want to go to the stars? I don’t even like to fly, I take trains. I built this ship so I could retire to some tropical island filled with naked women. Thats Zefram Cochrane. Thats his vision. This other guy, this historical figure, I never met him. I can’t imagine I ever will.”

  11. Branson’s flights make space more accessible to your average Joe Worker than NASA does. I’m not even in the same ballpark as an astronaut when it comes to the requirements that need to be fulfilled before one can get into space. But there is a chance, however small, that I may someday have enough money to pay for a trip on a private vehicle. And private endeavors like this will only make the trip cheaper. People like this give socialism a bad name.

  12. Gareth

    Eh?

    “If you want to book your seat you need to put down a deposit of £100,000, which is a fraction of the final cost.”

    From Virgin Galactic:

    “How much does a space ticket cost?
    Tickets are starting at US$200,000 (around £107,000)…”

    So yes, the deposit is a fraction of the final cost – a mere 93.4% of it…

    Methinks someone has got some figures wrong somewhere!

    In fact, from the VG website:

    “What is the deposit structure?
    We have three tiers of Astronaut reservations. Founders: The first 100 to fly. Deposit – $200,000 the full price of a ticket. This list is now closed to new reservations. Pioneers: Passengers who will fly in Virgin Galactic’s first year of operation and are expected to be amongst the first 1,000 people to go to space. Deposit – between $100,000 and $175,000 Voyagers: Those that have made reservations to travel immediately after Pioneers. Deposit – $20,000″

  13. RobG

    Blimey, are Socialist Worker still going? Part of life at University in the UK was avoiding the ever-enthusiastic sellers of SW outside the student’s union… ah, happy memories!

  14. Craig

    Far-left socialists a la the former Soviet Union are no more or no less guilty of raping the environment than capitalist societies.

    The last sentence of that quote is ridiculous and inflammatory, to whit this dialogue we are all having. The sentiment of space being the playground of the ultra-rich at the expense of the environment may not be unfounded.

    Space companies need to do a better job of selling the potentional benefits of their R&D as well as demonstrating their commitment to minimize damage to our little blue ball.

    Many corporations have done considerable harm to our planet while serving up benefits to their shareholders. That may be changing a lot in this century, but it really needs to be visible so that anecdotal comments like Phil posted can quickly and easily be debunked as the self-serving fearmongering it appears to be.

  15. Not surprisingly, they have their facts wrong — the 100,000GBP deposit covers the full price of the ticket, and only applies to the first hundred passengers. After that Virgin Galactic plans to reduce the deposit to half the ticket price for a year, then drop it down to 10,000GBP. They also say that they intend “to reduce this price as fast and as far as possible, allowing many thousands of people to experience space for themselves.”

    That sounds like a reasonable business plan — cater to the super rich for a couple years to recoup the R&D and start-up costs, then open it up to everyone.

  16. madge

    As a Brit AND a sometime Socialist I applaud the “From each according their ability. To each according to their needs” but these hard line socialists choose to shut their eyes to all the good stuff Richard Branson has achieved. He has woked hard to make his millions and I for one don’t begrudge him a single penny. I have friends who work for him and can’t praise him enough as a boss who wants all his staff to be fullfilled and supported in their personal endeavours. And the money he gies to good causes is legendary. I think he and Burt Rhutan are doing a fantastic job of expanding spaceflight to the public. Sure at the moment it is only for the rich but it makes mere mortals like me hopeful that one day, one day I (or possibly my children) may have a shot at going into space. Go Richard, Go Burt, Go Virgin Galactic. If I had the money I would be first inline for a ticket :)

  17. MH

    To be fair, I think the Branson set will get by without their compassion just fine.

  18. Jealousy at it’s finest! Well, I’M jealous, so I’m sure I could come up with something scathing to say about Branson and his cohorts; UNLESS they give me a ticket. :)

  19. I see this was posted in ‘Humor’ so I doubt Phil thinks the Socialist Worker’s possition requires serious rebutting.

    Branson has been pretty active on the environment in general and global warming in particular, so I’d be interested to know how he tackles the carbon footprint of his space activities.

  20. doug livesey

    I’m no fan of the Socialist Worker, but certainly am a Socialist, and can quite definitely say that I don’t require that someone be a repressed worker before I feel compassion for them.
    My experience tells me, however, that my compassion is better spent on the repressed, as the privileged & wealthy seem already to have plenty of other rich people looking out for them.
    It was a glib ending comment in a fluff article that nonetheless observed that the poor of this world might be a whole lot better off without the rich on it.
    Hard to argue that a whole lot of hoarded resources wouldn’t be loosed up …

  21. Cal H

    The problem with the “privatization of space”, as it were, is the likelihood that it will create yet another class division where space becomes the sole domain of the super wealthy. Space will become a giant theme park.

    How long before governmental bills forbidding space travel that bypasses these companies are signed into effect by a politician with one hand holding a pen and another hand in the cookie jar? The brutally greedy current state of the music industry is an example where the private ownership of music distribution not only prevents reaching an audience not shelling out exorbitant fees (of which the artists themselves end up seeing barely a penny), but also stymies creativity.

    Socialism does not frown upon wealth in itself, nor preclude financial incentives in life, but – as I see it – values proportional rewards. Nevertheless, as a socialist, my main disillusionment exists in the constant affirmation by people that they’ll only do great things for the promise of a financial reward, and not to make the world a better place. That important breakthroughs will only be achieved by humanity if a wad of cash on a string is dangled in the distance.

    For the record, the socialist concept of a “worker” is not the stereotype of some impoverished, factory-working human cog, but rather EVERYONE who has an employment where their salary is proportional to their output – be they factory workers, doctors, writers, plumbers, lawyers or astronomers (even bad ones :-)

  22. @Craig: “Far-left socialists a la the former Soviet Union are no more or no less guilty of raping the environment than capitalist societies.”

    I grew up in West Berlin. The water came from the East and was so disgusting that we drank bottled-water. School was canceled more often for smog alerts than inclement weather — to say nothing of the week we were told to stay indoors because of Chernobyl. My family once drove from Berlin to West Germany, and by the time we got out of the East, our car was covered in sulfur.

    Don’t tell me that Communism is no worse for the environment than capitalism. East Germany made New Jersey look like the Shire.

  23. BMcP

    It’s the Socialist Worker Online, which is a another way of saying Communist propaganda leaflet, so of course they oppose private enterprise being involved in space flight. They oppose all private enterprise and private property, so there is no surprise. What does surprise me is that people think the Socialist Worker Online is worthy of serious consideration.

  24. Quiet Desperation

    *shrug* This is ideology. This is what I have been preaching against for decades.

    Peace and freedom and love and ponies for all… who agree with the manifesto.

    The problem with the “privatization of space”, as it were, is the likelihood that it will create yet another class division where space becomes the sole domain of the super wealthy.

    Most forms of travel started out that way. Deal with it. I’m sorry we can’t loft people into orbit for the same cost as a palette government cheese, but those are the breaks. Why not see it as the wealthy subsidizing further development and taking all the risks?

    I’ve never understood socialism in the first place. Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others.

    People like you and me are not the problem. It’s all the idiots out there who can’t make a correct decision in life to, well, save their lives. The mortgage bailout is just the most recent example. It’s the Moron Tax placed on those of us with functioning intellects.

    Here’s a hot tip for you; environmentalism is not a “far left” stance

    No, he said the far left has *embraced* it. Big difference. Environmentalism by itself is just engineering.

  25. TimM

    What the editorial (and indeed the socialist movement as a whole) fail to understand is that competition breeds innovation. Notice how our space program stagnated after we “won” the space race. Branson is going to make $200 Million on the first thousand passengers of Virgin Galactic who, if the previous poster is correct, have already booked and paid for their trips. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but I think that Steve Ballmer put up somewhere around $20 Million to fund Rutan and his crew. Branson is going to make ten times that before he sends the first passenger up. The dollar figures alone should be enough to encourage someone else to start a competing venture.

    We *need* the super-rich to spend money on space tourism, because that money is the carrot that is dangling in front of the nose of every would-be space tourism investor.

  26. NM

    Thinking the “Socialist Worker Online” is representative of “socialism” in general is quite stupid, I’m afraid, Phil.

  27. TheBlackCat

    First, these are only initial flights. They need to recoup their investment. If this proves profitable they can build more spacecraft. Prices will then go down. There are three reasons for this. One is simple supply and demand. As the quantity of seats supplied goes up, the price will go down. Second is called economies of scale. The more of these craft are produced, the lower the cost per unit will become (to a certain point). The third is competition. If it becomes profitable others will jump in the ring and drive prices further down. But all this depends on getting over the initial hurdle: making money on the first spacecraft.

    And compared to existing space technology, I would think the environmental impact will be much smaller since they are launching from the air and not from the ground. Getting into the air is no worse than any other jumbo jet. Also, it seems to is using an organic molecule and nitrous oxide as fuel for the rocket, so the emissions should be not much worse in their composition than ordinary automobile exhaust, and perhaps better if the combustion is more complete. This is compared to the space shuttle which uses aluminum and a sodium-based compounds. And the fuel on its own is not toxic, unlike hydrazine.

  28. TheBlackCat

    Sorry, I meant chlorine-based compounds, not sodium-based. Stupid table salt.

  29. Rob Speed

    SS2 is like a rollercoaster like Mercury was a mine train.

  30. KC

    While it’s tempting to equate environmentalism with socialism, as so many socialists have taken up the banner of the former, I suspect it has more to do with a method of achieving a political goal. People don’t get excited about socialism anymore, the experience of the USSR and the Eastern Block having put a decidedly wet blanket on enthusiasm on the idea. However, people are concerned about the environment right now, and makes a handy tool for attracting interest and support. When the public’s interest changes, look for the socialists to drop the emphasis on the environment.

  31. KC Caldwell

    The only possible valid point they have is the damage to the environment. How much pollution do these flights create.

    If I had the money I would be signing up. I think I’ll wait for moon trips.

    kid cool

  32. Hey, NM, thanks for calling me stupid. Maybe you should look in the categories section of this post, see where it says “humor”, and rethink the target of your accusation.

  33. Charles

    Fortunately, Richard Branson will pay no attention to the Socialist Worker Online stance. Nor will his customers.

    BTW, the environmental stance is a bit of a red herring.

    Would I like to go? Yes. Can I afford to go? No. Not yet anyway. Hopefully in my lifetime, however. But does that mean I think it is unfair that those with more money can plunk down the cash and strap in? No.

    As spaceflight becomes more common and available, the price will drop and more and more people will be able to afford. Perhaps not in our lifetimes, but sometime soon anyway, orbital and even lunar trips will available.

  34. Wildride

    Ticket to the moon
    Flight leaves here today from Satellite Two
    As the minutes go by, what should I do?
    I paid the fare, what more can I say?
    It´s just one way

  35. While a private satellite launching business would “takes pressure off NASA” and other gov’t space agencies, I don’t see how Virgin’s space tourism business will help. The article also raise a good question about environmental impact.

    Does anyone know what is the environmental impact of a space launch (I’m sure someone does but can you enlighten the rest of us)? Is it comparable to a plane trip between say Europe and the US or is it comparable to 100,000 such plane rides? If the answer is close to the first then I don’t see an issue (unless we are contemplating more serious global travel restrictions). If close to the second however, the article has a point.

    So what is the answer to the empirical question?

  36. JTDC

    First of all: communists are most emphatically not socialists, especially the Stalinist and Maoist regimes of Russia and China. They hardly qualify as Marxist, and their concern for the worker wasn’t exactly high.

    Secondly: the tickets start at 107,000 GBP–which is for the most very basic package, with the lowest achieved altitude and shortest duration. They get more expensive, and rapidly so, if you go further up/stay longer.

    Thirdly: environmental concerns are extremely valid. Old school conservatives were concerned about the environment–think Teddy Roosevelt, Nixon (who created the EPA), et al. The only people, it seems, who are unconcerned with the environment at all are the neoconservatives. Their sole concern seems to be profit–profit for them and their friends. Everything else, and I mean everything else, goes to the wayside.

    Fourthly: I am personally leery of private space flights due to potential claims of territory and in orbital space. I can easily see a private entity setting up a few manned stations in orbit and claiming swathes of orbital territory as their own nation, imposing all sorts of barriers to space travel, exploration, not to mention the evasion of socially responsible regulations.

  37. Craig

    @Sean O’Hara
    I take your point however you have obviously never seen thousands of lakes in the US and Canada that are completely dead due to acid rain. You have never seen entire mountain tops removed and huge lakes (they call them tailing ponds) of heavy metal-contaminated water from open pit mining. You have never seen entire forests drowned when hydro-electric dams were built.

    You’re arrogant to think that the commies own the patent on destroying the environment.

  38. Tomas

    to be honest, i believe that introducing private sector to the “new space race” is the only way to get our fat asses off this planet within our lifetimes. One the other hand, it’s hard to see how international corporation won’t simply become interplanetary while expanding their bloodthirsty visions of materialistic gain beyond the Earth.

  39. utakata

    Um…as someone from the economic hard left, I strongly advise and implore you not to read anything from the Socialist Worker, Online or anything sle they do. They are nuttier than a Bill O’Rielly fruit cake.

    If private industry wants to help fund space exploration…the more power to them. Though they should be placed under same scrutiny as public funded space exploration. And both should be held accountable. That is, science, knowledge, humanity and making things go better should come first…

    /takes deep breath

    …I hope that helps.

  40. Alex

    Free market capitalism is badass. I cite the example of the 5 dollar footlong deals currently running at Quiznos and Subway.

  41. Matt A

    @ Sean O’Hara:

    This is OT, and I’m close to violating Phil’s “be nice” rule, but here goes:

    New Jersey is not the polluted hell hole that everyone claims it is. I was born, raised, and live here so I speak from experience.

    My theory is that most people’s experiences of NJ derive from the heavy industrial areas near NYC. I wouldn’t want to live there either, but it is not representative of the state.

    This is a real sore point with me because I’ve had it up to here with people making and reinforcing these ignorant uneducated assumptions. There’s a lot of ugly generalizations I could make about Germany but don’t because I’ve never been there and odds are they wouldn’t be true.

    Sorry, but I woke up on the wrong side of the cranberry patch today. I do agree with your Communism/environment comment, though.

    Matt A

  42. bjn

    The expenditure of resources for recreational space travel is enormous per passenger – even if the project is very small and serves only the ultra rich initially. And unlike publicly-funded space programs, Branson and Rutan aren’t doing science with wider benefits for society, they’re building an amusement park ride for folks who likely use up more of the worlds resources per person than any group on the planet. There isn’t a steerage on a Virgin Galactic trip. There isn’t a destination. It’s just an indulgent Space Mountain for billionaires.

  43. Matt A

    This one sort of gets me coming and going. For one thing, if you’ve got £100,000 just lying around idle – and surely, that’s the only kind of £100,000 you’d spend on this – then surely there’s something more worthy you could be doing with it? Clean water for a thousand villages in Africa, say? I feel the same way whenever a painting sells for some insane sum of money; people are dying every day for lack of food and clean water, and here a rich person has spent enough money to feed and clothe the world for a day on a square of colour-daubed canvas painted by someone who, during their life, nearly starved to death for not being able to sell paintings. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is socialism or just sickeningly thick irony.

    For the second thing, skimming the edge of the atmosphere isn’t enough like really going into space to qualify as being worth the money anyway. It’s not a trip to space, for me, until you complete an orbit. For £100,000, I’d expect a night’s accomodation in the LEO Hilton, with an all-you-can-eat space-bacon* buffet breakfast thrown in gratis. Of course, this is probably down to cognitive dissonance on my part, a failure to grasp just how expensive manned space flight is from the standpoint of a private individual. All the same – it’s more money than I’d make if I sold my house. For a few moments of exoatmospheric flight. For one percent of one percent of that cost, you could buy twice as many drugs as you’d need to hallucinate the experience, and first contact with alien life, with Pink Floyd doing the soundtrack, Zeus providing pyrotechnics and a Walrus playing the bongos.

    Or so I would imagine. Drugs are bad, kids, Mmmmkay?

    * Which comes from flying pigs. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  44. Matt A (UK)

    Dang, there’s suddenly two of me! Or, I’m another one of him. Or… no, sod it, I’ll be Matt A (UK) from now on.

  45. Andy Beaton

    This brings up a question I’ve been curious about for a while. What is the environmental impact of launching a spaceship powered by burning benzene and rubber? How many of these launches will be necessary before they become a serious environmental problem? If the cost is too high, I would probably support restricting frivolous space flight. On the other hand, if it’s no worse than flying a couple of training flights in a B2, well, let the rockets fly.

  46. RL

    Sean O’Hara and Matt A: You must be referring to the northern part of NJ. South Jersey (which will hopefully be some day liberated from the North) is a veritable Garden of Eden! We put the Garden in Garden State.

  47. sketchy

    bjn: It’s just an indulgent Space Mountain for billionaires.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Sure it’s great that we’re building and discovering and pushing the envelope, but how much garbage and pollution can we allow to be dumped on the less-that-hyper-rich to enable that?

    Lledowyn, you have not achieved everything you have ever done on your own.

    Roads, Hospitals, Schools, Farms, Police, all paid for with public money. So many other things which don’t immediately come to mind. But you certainly are not the sole engine of your own success.

  48. KC

    Craig:

    No one’s saying that everything is pristine and clean under capitalism. What they’re pointing out is the irony of socialism’s concern over the environment, given the ecological disasters that happened in the U.S.S.R.

  49. baley

    To people that do not understand why spaceflight is important,
    this attempt looks like nothing more than an extravagant, for super-rich only waste of time and fuel, hence that article.

  50. Hoonser

    “It’s just an indulgent Space Mountain for billionaires.”

    Well yeah. But think of it this way… The accident rate for space travel is horrendously low. So putting more space ships up there is going to increase the chances of accidents. It’s preferable to fill those ships with expendable toffs, rather than valuable scientists.

  51. RL

    But seriously, a big thing being missed by many is that private space companies, regardless of motives and even cost, are going to be big engine in advancing human kind into space. If all the first flights do is get you into low orbit, so what? Thats the first step. If its a theme park, so what? People are in space. Eventually, some smart person will figure out how to use that theme park for science. And if they get rich off of that? Great! They deserve it. I wonder if I can buy stock in a rocket fuel company…?

  52. mattand

    @RL:

    I can’t speak for Mr. O’Hara, but indeed South Jersey where I’m from and at, as well as what as I referring to.

    Not a big fan of separation, though. I don’t think SJ could survive on it’s own. Given how many people nation- and worldwide malign NJ, we need to stick together.

    Also, the Matt A who gave the pros and cons on space flight (with a South Park chaser) wasn’t me. I wish I could write that succinctly.

    Matt A

  53. Alan Chapman

    I’m an anarcho-capitalist (read Murray Rothbard). I’ve worked with computers for 20 years. I was working in a computer store in 1988 when we received our first 386 computers. We sold them for $2500 (with no hard drive). That’s $4500 in 2007 dollars. Today it’s possible to buy a computer with thousands of times the processing power, memory, and storage for less than 25% of the cost. The computer industry is among the least regulated and politicized industries. Contrast that with the health-care industry which is among the most highly regulated and politicized industries. Health-care costs continue to rise while availability dwindles. In order for a private space industry to flourish, it’s best to keep the government from meddling in it. Socialism reduces everyone down to the lowest common denominator. It is the refuge of the weak and covetous.

  54. CanadianLeigh

    As my name says, I am likely to be more left leaning than my cousins to the south. I find it ironic that socialism in the form of unionism gave rise to the middle classes in most of the western world. The tax base for the space programs in most of the western world come mainly from the middle class. This wasn’t a pre-planned outcome, history just happened that way.
    I agree with Madge full heartedly when I say I support Richard Branson in his endevours. Only naked capitalism can drive such risky new explorations. His long term goal is to reduce the costs to the point where the socailist middle class can afford a ticket, then look out, another boom in technology.
    The only critisism I have of some comments are when the political terms get so easily supplanted for the economic terms as in socailism and communism. Communism failed because real socailism cannot survive in a non-democratic environment. Enviromenalism cannot survive in a communist enviroment either, which should be no surprise as both need the basic freedom of speech. That may be the real link here.

  55. Me, I’m going to wait for the space elevator. Just need to put the finishing touches on these mile-long carbon nanotubes…..there. Now figure a way to put them together….piece of cake.

    Just wait for the doors to open and hit the UP button. (Elevator music plays softly).

  56. Joe Meils

    I don’t suppose it makes any difference if i point out that both early “automobiles” and “aereoplanes” were pretty much the playthings of the uber rich, when they were first developed, would it?

    To quote another movie (in turn based on a real life person) “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

    It would be nice if we could finance a space endevor the same way Obama finances his campaign, (or the way Jules Verne wrote about financing his “moon gun”) via private donations… But the public imagination seems to have been blunted by the fact that NASA has this amazing ability to make space travel about as exciting as watching an apple brown.

    If near orbit ballistic (rollercoaster) flights will lead to full LEO, and possibly to flights around tha backside of the moon… then I say go for it!

  57. Gustav Nyström

    Lledowyn,

    “I’ve never understood socialism in the first place. Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others. Part of the reason that I have been so motivated to do the things that I have done is because I am compelled with the possibility of having a sizable monetary reward by the time I retire.”

    But not everyone gets the same start in life, someone who is born in poverty is not going to get the same chances that someone who is born rich so even if the poor person struggles as hard as the rich man, they are not going to end up with the same rewards. Also, not everyone is motivated by monetary rewards, and I don’t think I want to live in a world where people was.

  58. Craig

    KC,
    You make a valid point. I disagree that socialism = communism. In fact, Soviet communism was a perversion of “true” communism anyway. Canada is a socialist nation, but we aren’t a bunch of 5-year-plan-let-me-see-your-papers-hammer-and-sickle commies. Let us not forget our Scandanavian friends who also see the benefits and pitfalls of socialism. That said, most of the best countries in the world that are desired as places to live are socialist.

    Canadians care deeply about the environment, and we have a right-wing government in power, so you see that it is possible for the two ideologies to exist simultaneously.

    The right-left only view of the world is very American, coming from their two-party electoral system. Unfortunately, the world is not that way, and I’m sure many US citizens wish that there were more than two dogmas from which to choose.

    I guess my point, which took forever to make, is that environmentalism does not belong only to socialists. In this past decade it has become obvious that the environment cares not about politics, but politics seems indelibly etched into the environment. We need to drop the BS politics and simply do the right thing and build a better world for tomorrow. For that we need both socialists AND capitalists.

  59. Loaf Of Bread

    I’m guessing the Socialist Worker Online is designed to appeal to the armpit of humanity and would complain about anybody who earns enough to afford a middle class home, a car in the garage, a chicken in the pot on the stove, and a French poodle.

    One of the things that makes space travel expensive is it takes a lot of energy to move up the gravity well. On top of that, every pound of fuel used to push you just a bit further up the gravity well has to be hauled up the gravity well too. To get a shuttle into low Earth orbit, something like 95% of the mass sitting on the launch pad never makes it into orbit (ether expended as fuel or jetisoned as spent SRBs and empty external fuel tank).

    If commercial outfits can find ways to safely reduce that 95%–like Branson using the “White Knight” aircraft to get “Space Ship N” part way up–all the more power to them. That what’s going to bring the costs down so that, one day, more of us will get the opportunity.

  60. Gustav Nyström

    KC,

    “No one’s saying that everything is pristine and clean under capitalism. What they’re pointing out is the irony of socialism’s concern over the environment, given the ecological disasters that happened in the U.S.S.R.”

    The Sovietunion were hardly socialist. Remember, socialism does not equal communism, even though they are both rooted in marxism. And it’s not like the soviets were polluting because of anyting inherent in their ideology. Rather, it was becasue they were ignorant fools, much like the capitalists in the west.

  61. Sir Eccles

    Yeah the article just stinks of jealousy.

    I suppose the bigger unasked question is “what do such flights achieve?”. In terms of technology the advancement is pretty slim. I think the achievement is to simply to be the first and to show it can be profitable. Once other people see the money pouring in they will want to copy Branson and offer their own flights. But it won’t be good enough to just copy him, it will be a competitive market you need to go a mile higher or be weightless longer or eventually orbit. As each company tries to out do the previous one to grab these rich customers they will push the envelope slowly out. That is the point not that Branson achieves anything but that the people following do.

  62. Brandon

    I am a moderate socialist, and I can say that I completely disagree with that sentiment. People should have the right to private enterprise, regardless of industry. Considering the fact that NASA can’t figure out how to keep foam from falling off shuttles, what other choice do we have? If only there were more rational socialists.

  63. jasonB

    Matt A, do you have and extra $1000 bucks lying around? Send it to Africa. How about $100, you shouldn’t be hanging on to that much when people are dying. How about an an extra 10 spot? That would seem “rich” to someone in Africa eating bugs, get that money going.

    How about not worrying quiet so much with what other people do with their money. Do you think that maybe a few (maybe more) people will be employed and NOT NEED handouts by the building and launching of this and other private space vehicles. There might even be an astronomer, bad or otherwise who could continue to make a living by covering the development and launch of said projects.

    To all of the self avowed socialists why not sell your computers that you’re currently posting with and get that money to the “less fortunate”. There’s always somebody below you and somebody above you. Make someone else in charge of deciding who needs what and you might suddenly find yourself saying “hey, I’m not rich take his, take his.”

    Back to work to help bail out more people who gambled and lost on their housing/shelter.

  64. PG

    @NM: I fail to see the word “socialism” anywhere in Phil’s post.

  65. Robert

    Space flight for the masses
    Not the Tory ruling classes!

  66. Ijon Tichy

    Socialists and communists used to be pro-technology and pro-industrialisation. But in recent times (decades) they have cast their lot in with the eco-zealots, primitivists and other magical thinkers. That said, the big advances in human space exploration will always be largely driven by government. The sources of technological innovation are governments, monopolistic corporations, and private & public users of technology. Companies seeking profit in a competitive environment are rarely innovative; they take what they can with a minimum of investment. So says this technocratic socialist.

  67. Ijon Tichy

    I fail to see the word “socialism” anywhere in Phil’s post.

    That’s because you’re blind or illiterate or exceedingly anal.

  68. jasonB

    Ijon

    What government made the computer you’re working on? No innovation there……

  69. LOL! Your post is like a red flag to bull, Phil.
    Oh noes, teh taxes!

  70. Of course socialists aren’t for private space flight, just like we’re not for private ownership of the railways or anything else.

    Private companies having their foot in the door are only out to exploit space – which should be a strictly public affair.

  71. @ Craig: “You’re arrogant to think that the commies own the patent on destroying the environment.”

    I never said they did — I said that they were far, far worse than any modern capitalist country. If you think lakes killed by acid rain are bad, what do you think happens in a country where the air is so full of sulfur it turns orange? Read this article on how bad Communism was to East Germany:

    “The effects of environmental degradation in Bitterfeld extend
    beyond the borders of the city. Sulfur dioxide emitted from the
    lignite power plants have contributed to the degradation of
    forests, lakes and rivers throughout Germany. It is estimated that
    90 percent of East German forests are damaged as a result of air
    pollution. According to a Kotyczka and Kroske study, the upper
    Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) have the most damaged forest areas in
    Europe. Moreover, 9,000 lakes are dying throughout the region and
    expert opinion suggests that all life is extinct in approximately
    one third of its water sources.”

    To say that Communists are no more guilty of destroying the environment than capitalists is pure horsehockey. If Communists were in charge, the world would look like Mordor. (And don’t tell me that the Soviets weren’t real Communists — that’s just a “No true Scotsman” argument.)

  72. Charles

    “The sources of technological innovation are governments, monopolistic corporations, and private & public users of technology.”

    That’s how Telsa invented radio — working for himself.

    Philo T. Farnsworth invented electronic television working on his own too. The idea came to him as a teenager.

    Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs popularized the homebrew computer movement and made the first real practical PC that sold very well — working in a garage.

    etc.

  73. Charles

    “Ijon

    What government made the computer you’re working on? No innovation there……”

    To argue the other side of the coin:

    Initially, the MIT Instrumentation laboratory used roughly 60% of the supply of integrated circuits in the US as they developed their inertia guidance system for the Apollo program. That program is largely credited with kicking off the computer industry as we know it today.

    Also, remember that the Internet itself is a former Department of Defense and academia project. Milnet and ARPANet figure very strongly into the history of the Internet as we know it.

    Internet2 is pretty much an academic network that has quite a number of government funded entities participating.

  74. @ Craig: “You’re arrogant to think that the commies own the patent on destroying the environment.”

    I never said they did — I said that they were far, far worse than any modern capitalist country. If you think lakes killed by acid rain are bad, what do you think happens in a country where the air is so full of sulfur it turns orange? Read this article: http://www.american.edu/TED/lignite.htm

    “The effects of environmental degradation in Bitterfeld extend
    beyond the borders of the city. Sulfur dioxide emitted from the
    lignite power plants have contributed to the degradation of
    forests, lakes and rivers throughout Germany. It is estimated that
    90 percent of East German forests are damaged as a result of air
    pollution. According to a Kotyczka and Kroske study, the upper
    Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) have the most damaged forest areas in
    Europe. Moreover, 9,000 lakes are dying throughout the region and
    expert opinion suggests that all life is extinct in approximately
    one third of its water sources.”

    To say that Communists are no more guilty of destroying the environment than capitalists is pure horsehockey. If Communists were in charge, the world would look like Mordor.

  75. KC

    Gustav Nyström:

    The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics wasn’t Socialist? Sorry, but the USSR was socialist from the get-go. Lenin preached it. Stalin preached it. To the best of my knowledge every Soviet leader through Gorbachev supported it. Even the major art style to come out of the USSR (and officially sanctioned, by the way) was called Socialist Realism.

  76. Jose

    I don’t you can make any clear associations between any form of government and environmental policy. You show me a Communist Dictatorship that’s destroyed the environment; I’ll show you one that’s been great for the environment. The same goes for any other form of government.

  77. Steve H

    What the frack is Ijon Tichy talking about? Lumping together eco-zeolots, primitivists and magical thinkers is way more than a bit of stretch. Put it this way, there are people who can understand science and “get it” regarding humans impact on the environment, and there are people that don’t. I would be much more likely to call the people who don’t “magical thinkers.” I also tend to think of “magical thinkers” as the whole lot of you that somehow think that your science fiction fantasies of recreational space flight is worth the harm that it will do to the environment.

    Truly, its unabashed greed that many here are displayed, and its quite sickening. I understand that its nice to have hope and dreams of soaring off into space, and to be wowed by technological advances. However, at some point we must return to the reality of life and ask the hard questions, and I really don’t think I could ever answer yes to the question of whether or not recreational space flight is worth the monetary cost or the natural resource implications. That said, this is one way to pry the money out of some rich person’s hands. And to JasonB, might it be better that we employ these same people in positions that would of greater benefit? Surely Lord Branson knows that he could front the money for a company to innovate making solar cells or other, better energy technologies. It would be an easy assurance of making money, whereas this isn’t. If the first flight blows up, what of it, are we better off? Is he better off? Or are we just grateful for the $20 million lesson in priorities?

  78. Jose

    Sorry, but the USSR was socialist from the get-go. Lenin preached it. Stalin preached it.

    But did they practice what they preached? That’s what matters. It’s the same as Pat Robertson saying he’s a Christian, even though his actions show he’s some sort of evil atheist or devil worshiper.

  79. KC

    Craig:

    I don’t know how Phil feels about a purely political discussion on his blog, but I think the impression of most Americans were shaped by the Bolshevik Revolution and the Cold War. Socialism is regarded as something concrete, in that one is socialist or one is not. There are, however, varying degrees of socialism. Most Americans would bristle at the label socialist while thinking socialist policies are a good thing (as long as it isn’t applied to them). For example, there is strong support for punitive legislation against oil companies because of high prices. However, if you were to advance the notion of the government capping how much each of us can earn, you’d hear a great howl of protest.

    As for myself, I think unrestrained Socialism is bad. On the other hand, I think unrestrained Capitalism is bad, too. I tend to be much more Capitalist than Socialist. Whatever.

    I will note that in the West, socialism has a strong connection as a solution to social issues. Getting this back to science, those in the West with leanings toward socialism tended to view space exploration as a waste of money better spent on social programs, and that doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years.

  80. I’ve never understood socialism in the first place. Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others.

    Good for you. You know, that’s not possible for everyone.

    As it has been shown over and over, a Soviet system or a capitalist free market system doesn’t work. True, entrepreneurship is needed to keep the economy running and innovative, but it’s not enough. There are many aspects of life that work much worser when privatized. My advice is that keep vital functions like health care, education, and basic infrastructure under state/municipal control.

    We have this kind of system in the Nordic countries and I can tell it works–though many of those “vital functions” are degrading as they’re being privatized. In a Nordic society you do pay more taxes, but hey, you can trust you can get decent health care and education, criminality is under control, roads are not full of potholes and so on. I think it’s a fair price to pay.

    The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics wasn’t Socialist? Sorry, but the USSR was socialist from the get-go. Lenin preached it. Stalin preached it. To the best of my knowledge every Soviet leader through Gorbachev supported it. Even the major art style to come out of the USSR (and officially sanctioned, by the way) was called Socialist Realism.

    Socialism = owned by the people. In the USSR everything was basically owned by the Party, and it was controlled by limited group. Since people had not much chance to say how things should be run, the results were what they were. Not very socialist no matter its leaders may have called it, even if they truly meant it.

    BTW, North Korea is officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It’s not democratic, and definitely not people’s nor a republic.

  81. KC

    The question isn’t whether Pat Robertson is a Christian, but whether Pat Robertson is a good Christian. It’s too easy to dismiss those in our camp as not being one of us simply because we disagree with them.

    Someone who’s a socialist but looks in horror at what happened n the USSR may well wish to excommunicate Lenin and company from the socialist camp. Orwell came close to doing that in Animal Farm. But being that those involved preached and believed the doctrine of socialism, I think the best they can do is to say they were bad socialists.

  82. Quiet Desperation

    That said, this is one way to pry the money out of some rich person’s hands.

    Right there! There’s the primary intellectual failure of many of the so called Left. The idea that rich people have all this money and it’s all hidden away in a giant mattress or something, and needs to be pried away. Folks, the wealth of the wealthy is mostly on paper. They own pieces of things. There is no Scrooge McDuck with a giant building full of money to swim around it. It’s all out there in loans and investments and all sorts of other places where it works to create jobs, commodities and everything else.

    Or are we just grateful for the $20 million lesson in priorities?

    Do you think the $20 million just vanishes into thin air? You think Branson’s company has no employees? Or the companies that provide the materials for the spacecraft?

    Surely Lord Branson knows that he could front the money for a company to innovate making solar cells

    http://www.nanosolar.com/

    They seem to be doing well without Branson’s help. There’s all sorts of adults out there doing perfectly well without *your* advice and council.

    Truly, its unabashed greed that many here are displayed, and its quite sickening.

    Oh, you poor little thing!

    Gawds, I have little use for Ayn Rand (an ideologue on the opposite pole from you), but you sound just like Hank Reardon’s mother and brother Phillip in Atlas Shrugged.

  83. Lledowyn

    Actually Gustav, my parents were both working class, and I’m the first one in my family to have achieved a college degree. Because I applied myself in High School, I was able to get a full scholarship to USF, which is the local University here. From there, I busted my behind to get a Computer Engineering degree, and beyond being encouraging to me, my parents simply couldn’t help me financially with my education. Since my program took 5 years to complete, and the scholarships ran out after 4, I had to work full time while I finished my last year.

    Everything that I did, I was able to do it because I worked very hard to get it. My parents were simply unable to help, and I wouldn’t have been a burden on them to ask for help in the first place,. I did it on my own instead. Now, I’m about to finish a second degree (this time a Physics degree), and when I’m done, I have a position lined up at a game studio where I will be working on developing 3D Engines.

    The point is though, my parents were unable to help, my scholarships were earned through hard work, and I am where I am today because of the hard work I have continued to apply on myself and my career. I wasn’t given anything beyond my parents caring enough to raise me, and frankly, it’s good that it worked out that way because I don’t think I would be as driven if I had everything given to me on a platter.

  84. We used to see Socialist Worker supporters all over the place when I was a lad. It’s nice to see that they’re still going, annoying everyone else with their fairland politics.

    We used to have an alternative name for them: “Socialist Wanker”. Ah, such a witty riposte.

  85. Tom

    I’d call myself a socialist, and I’d call Socialist Worker a waste of paper :)

  86. Jose

    The question isn’t whether Pat Robertson is a Christian, but whether Pat Robertson is a good Christian.

    I don’t think it works like that. If you do something that flies in the face of the core beliefs that a religion or movement espouses, you can be separate to that movement. If I tell people I’m a Christian so they send me money, that doesn’t make me a Christian.

  87. Damien

    Phil Plait

    Communism is the Creationism of economic science, and socialism is the intelligent design.

    These people are every bit as determined to deny their failures and deny the success of Free Market Capitalism regardless of evidence, as the Creationist are when it comes to evolution. They can never except being wrong, regardless how overwhelming the evidence against their ideas are. On a few rare occasions I have even seen socialists using some of the same fallacies Creationists use.

  88. Tom Pain

    Hey Phil, just how much science do you think these private sector types are going to sponsor in space. Where is the profit in the Hubble or dark matter research? Sorry, all I see in this are people with Buck Rogers fantasies being able to act them out. What are the benefits for humanity or knowledge in that? And to those who point out the automobile began as a rich mans toy, well 100 years later we are just about at the end of that road aren’t we? Where would we be today without the car? I don’t know, but we would surely have more oil.

  89. TheBlackCat

    I don’t think it works like that. If you do something that flies in the face of the core beliefs that a religion or movement espouses, you can be separate to that movement.
    Who gets to determine what are and are not the core beliefs of a religion? You say what he does flies in the face of the core beliefs of Christianity, but that is only under your own interpretation of the core beliefs. Other people might very well say what you do flies in the face of the core beliefs of Christianity, and many Christians apparently think that he fits with their interpretation of the religion’s cores beliefs just fine. That is part of the problem with the No True Scotsman fallacy, it requires someone set himself or herself up as the sole arbiter of what is and is not a True Scotsman.

  90. Jose

    @Lledowyn
    I think you missed Gustav’s point. He’s not commenting on where you personally came from. He’s making a general statement about how the world works, which still holds true.

  91. TheBlackCat

    Hey Phil, just how much science do you think these private sector types are going to sponsor in space.

    The science they are sponsoring is getting into space and getting back. And they seem to have pushed that pretty far, since they are so far the first one to be able to build a runway-launched space vehicle of any sort.

    Where is the profit in the Hubble or dark matter research?/blockquote>
    The profit is in getting the satellite into orbit in the first place. If they are able to reduce the cost of launching satellites into space the benefit to science, and society in general, will be immeasurable. of course doing the science is not in their best interest. That is because they are just couriers, moving objects from one place to another. Currently it is people for this company. For Space X it is satellites. By pushing the limits of space travel, by trying to make it profitable, they hopefully can drive prices down and reliability up.

    It is like comparing Fedex or UPS to USPS. Sure USPS will get you were you need to go, but Fedex and UPS can do it faster, cheaper, and more reliably in most situations. Fedex and UPS are also extremely valuable to science because they allow us to move scientific equipment from one place to another. Science would be a lot less reliable and less efficient if we were only limited to using the government postal service to get from one place to another. That is what am I hoping for out of this, at least in the short term.

    That is for Space X. For Virgin Galactic you could be looking at something similar to comparing a 747 to the C-5 Galaxy military troop transport. The C-5, once again, gets the job done, but that aren’t very many of them and the only people who get to go on them are the ones the government picks. A 747, however, will move whoever can afford a ticket. Can you imagine how difficult it would be if every scientist who wanted to do research elsewhere had to beg the government to let them on a C-5? Going anywhere would be pretty much impossible. Few, if any, modern airlines are just going to give away tickets to scientists. But that doesn’t stop scientists from buying their own tickets if the research is important enough to warrant it.

    Actually, if the price drops even a little scientists renting these craft for certain specialized experiments or observations may not be all that uncommon. Compared to a satellite launch, which according to HowStuffWorks can cost between $50-$400 million, renting the entire craft right now is actually considerably cheaper. Although you can only go up for a very short time, that may be all you need for certain experiments or obeservations.

  92. Jose

    @TheBlackCat

    Who gets to determine what are and are not the core beliefs of a religion?
    I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s irrelevant. If someone says they’re a vegetarian, but I see them eating a Hamburger, then I don’t consider them a vegetarian.

    You say what he does flies in the face of the core beliefs of Christianity, but that is only under your own interpretation of the core beliefs.

    They’re not my interpretation of the core beliefs of Christianity. I think most people in the world could agree that one of the core things to being to being a Christian is following the teachings of Jesus Christ. There’s no evil overlord making that definition and imposing that on the world. It just is.

    Therefore, if someone says they’re a Christian, but doesn’t follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, they’re not a Christian.

  93. KC

    Tom Pain:

    No, they’re probably not going to do much science in space. What they will do is develop launch vehicles that will make space more accessible for people who will.

  94. It's Jake

    Hey Phil, just how much science do you think these private sector types are going to sponsor in space. Where is the profit in the Hubble or dark matter research?

    How about developments in the tech to get them there? That gets better and cheaper and then those interested in pure science, like universities and foundations, can afford to fly things.

    Sorry, all I see in this are people with Buck Rogers fantasies being able to act them out.

    Tough crap. We have to start somewhere, and this is a way to get it boot strapped. No one really cares what you think.

    Or appeal to the folks going on the flights to include some experiment or something. A lot of early science was done by well off people with scientific hobbies. There’s a precedent there.

    What are the benefits for humanity or knowledge in that?

    Other than the aforementioned improvements to the flight tech, why does there have to be any? Becuse *you* demand it? Who the hell are you to demand anything of anyone?

    And who says Branson’s efforts should replace NASA or pure science flights? Every space flight has to fit your little idealized perfect archetype of wonderous science? Screw you and your pretensions.

    And to those who point out the automobile began as a rich mans toy, well 100 years later we are just about at the end of that road aren’t we?

    What parallel dimension are you from? Not even by a long shot. Technology marches onward with the Tesla Roadster and Honda fuel cell cars and many others. Dude, do you even leave the house?

    The Tesla Roadster is another good example. Rich man’s toy, but it made Tesla Motors a profit and funded the development of the next generation electric cars which will be much cheaper.

    Where would we be today without the car? I don’t know, but we would surely have more oil.

    *snore*

    Where would we be today without the Sun? Your question is nonsensical.

    Some of you folks really need to think things through a LOT more. Most of your post was superficial ideological flim flam- focusing on one isolated thing and ignoring the whole rest of the world.

    STOP with the “oh woe is us” piffle. It’s cranky, childish nonsense. Grow a damned spine already. You think the world needs fixing? Go out, get educated, and help fix it instead of crying crocodile tears for long debunked ideologies that belong on history’s trash heap.

  95. Gustav Nyström

    Precisely, Jose. As I said – or ment to say, anyway – not everyone is able to work very hard (maybe they have a physical or mental handicap, for instance) are they not entitled to a decent life?

    KC,

    “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics wasn’t Socialist?”

    The People’s Republic of China are said to be communists, yet they seem pretty damn capitalist to me. It is possible for something to be called one thing and be another.

  96. KC

    Jose:

    The core beliefs of Christianity are who Jesus is, what He did for us, why that was important, and that God raised him from the dead. Both C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity and Billy Graham in Peace with God do a very good job of covering this.

    To the best of my knowledge, Pat Robertson holds to these core beliefs. Therefore, I can’t say that he’s not a Christian just because I don’t like some of the things he does. If someone had heard an expletive that slipped out the other day, they might question whether I’m a Christian, too.

  97. TheBlackCat

    I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s irrelevant. If someone says they’re a vegetarian, but I see them eating a Hamburger, then I don’t consider them a vegetarian.

    That is because they are not vegetarians by definition. What is the definition of Christian?

    Therefore, if someone says they’re a Christian, but doesn’t follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, they’re not a Christian.

    Not every agrees on that, as KC pointed out. And even if they did agree, do you follow every teaching of Jesus to the letter? I’ll believe that when I see you drinking poison, handing out no-interest loans to anyone who asks, and giving all of your money to the poor. Nobody follows all of the teachings of Jesus. So somewhere someone has to draw the line between the core teachings that must be followed and the other ones that do not have to be followed. Someone has to draw the line between unattainable goals, metaphors, and requirements. Why are you the one who gets to make that distinction?

  98. Ad Hominid

    The plain truth would blunt much of this criticism: Branson and (especially) Rutan are lightening the wallets of rich thrill seekers to pay for some development that will ultimately lead to really affordable and worthwhile spaceflight.
    The way to the stars is not just long and hard, it is expensive and the process has to start with those who can afford it.

  99. Jose

    To the best of my knowledge, Pat Robertson holds to these core beliefs.

    To the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t. But I’m looking at his actions, not what he labels himself. Could I be wrong? Maybe. The whole point is that people are not necessarily what they say they are. I personally think Pat Robertson is a scumbag con-artist. If there is a hell, I’m sure he’s got reservations.

    That is because they are not vegetarians by definition. What is the definition of Christian?

    I’m not trying to define Christianity. No one can give you a definition of what Christianity is that the whole world will agree on. But I can’t do that for vegetarians either. However, most people will agree that eating cow is not consistent with vegetarianism, just like most people will agree that spitting in face of Jesus is not consistent with Christianity.

    And even if they did agree, do you follow every teaching of Jesus to the letter?

    Of course not. I’m an atheist. I do live my life in line with some of what Jesus taught, but that’s just a coincidence.

  100. JTDC

    KC: The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is not democratic, not for the people, and not a republic. It’s a totalitarian state bent on oppressing the people.

    A lot of guys who preach anti-gay rhetoric get caught having sex with other men.

    Preaching something and naming yourself it doesn’t mean you are it. I cannot believe any intelligent person fails to recognize this.

  101. gopher65

    Lledowyn Says:
    Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others.

    I won’t even comment on the ridiculously communist paper that Phil linked, but the attitude displayed by Lledowyn is annoying. Cause, like, you built every road you drove on. You built the firehall. You built the police station that protects you, and you totally funded that all by yourself. Ditto with your personal military forces. Good job Lledowyn. Most people can’t honestly claim to be anti-socialist, because they embrace socialism with open arms. Buy you my friend, you can be anti-socialist with a clean conscience.

  102. gopher65

    An edit function would be really nice ;). Typos! Weee!

  103. Jose

    So somewhere someone has to draw the line between the core teachings that must be followed and the other ones that do not have to be followed. Someone has to draw the line between unattainable goals, metaphors, and requirements. Why are you the one who gets to make that distinction?

    Because I was appointed Squagulator Illuminus by Lord Vorklon, dummy! That’s why I get to decide everything for everyone. Insolent blog poster.

    God, when will people learn? Please give them a sign.

  104. JTDC

    The biggest problem with this is that fuel will most certainly not get cheaper with time. No matter how much you innovate, you still need to expend a large amount of energy just to get a kilogram up that high. Rockets? Never going to be in the realm of the common man. A space elevator, on the other hand, can. Electrical energy is much easier to use in this scenario. Guess what? All the rocketry innovation won’t ever make it cheap enough for any other than the rich to use. Too much fuel is needed, period.

    So this is truly a rich man’s toy, and ever will be. It won’t pave the way for flights for the not rich. It’ll go from the obscenely wealthy to the merely rich. That’s the extent.

  105. Ah. Iowa City used to have a chapter of this socialist group. It was like a religious group that was devoted to Marx. All of their newspaper articles seemed to end with, “and (such and such) won’t happen until we have a true socialist revolution!”

    I guess at this point in history, you almost have to have a religious mindset to be a revolutionary Marxist. The world has moved on to other things.

  106. I confess that I have skipped over many of the last 130 or so comments, but a quick scan for “final cost” didn’t turn up any since Gareth’s comment at 9:42.

    Based on my reading of just this excerpts (and not the source material), I assumed the “final cost” they were referring to is the “total cost” including environmental and social costs, as alluded to in the next paragraph – not just the cost of a ticket. But I have no idea if that’s what they were really talking about.

    Seems like Richard Branson and his buddies taking ego trips in space planes will have a much larger environmental impact that their ballooning exploits.

  107. Here’s the typo-free version of that comment:

    I confess that I have skipped over many of the last 130 or so comments, but a quick scan for “final cost” didn’t turn up any since Gareth’s comment at 9:42.

    Based on my reading of just this excerpt (and not the source material), I assumed the “final cost” they were referring to is the “total cost” including environmental and social costs, as alluded to in the next paragraph – not just the cost of a ticket. But I have no idea if that’s what they were really talking about.

    Seems like Richard Branson and his buddies taking ego trips in space planes will have a much larger environmental impact than their ballooning exploits.

  108. You’re dreaming if you think this is just a theme park for billionaires. Riding a Russian rocket to the space station is for billionaires.

    $200,000 is extremely affordable if you’re that way inclined. It is about a third of the price of an average home in Sydney. Saying that sub-orbital space is a billionaires playground is like saying the same for Antarctica. I’ve travelled to Antarctica. It is perceived to bit a rich persons holiday – say $7000 – $30000 depending on how long and where you go. Most of the people that do go are retirees. Not all are rich but they have saved enough to fulfill a dream. Some I went with have been 7, 8, 9 or 10 times. That adds up. There will be thousands of people with a retirement fund that can afford and have the motivation to go on Branson’s roller coaster. There will be thousands more that are younger and “comfortable” that can afford it too. I doubt there’d be many that read the “Socialist Worker” though. Would I drop 200 grand? Probably not, but the better half has warned me she is watching our bank accounts… if it was 50 grand and I could stand vomiting for an hour though….

    BTW, if you’re inclined to go to Antarctica and you’re waiting to retire, don’t. Go as soon as you can afford to. It will be the closest you will come to walking on another planet for some time.

  109. It's Jake

    Cause, like, you built every road you drove on. You built the firehall. You built the police station that protects you, and you totally funded that all by yourself.

    That’s typical strawman idiocy. When someone says they are self sufficient and can take care of themselves, they are not rejecting the whole concept of society and community. What they mean is they have made their own way in the ways an individual can, and not suckled at the government teat. Obviously a man can’t build hiw own roads. The whole response is at a complete zero level of intellect.

    He made his own way, worked hard, AND PAID THE TAXES to support police and firemen and road building, so you’re whole argument, such as it is, blows up in your face. Meanwhile, the slobs living off the government teat (as opposed to people who do honest jobs in the public sector) didn’t pay ANYTHING for police and fire protection and roads, but they still get to use them.

    So this is truly a rich man’s toy, and ever will be.

    OK, rocket scientist. And you know what? Even if it is, it’s none of your business if it is or not. It can still become a minor industry that provides jobs and technical innovations.

    All the whining is simple jealousy and a pack of people who think they are smart and know NOTHING about economics, and suffer from all the ignorance and fallacies that lead people to embrace ideologies in the first place. Ideologues like you folks are smart about your ideology and politics, and that’s no better than being smart about mud wrestling and taking a dump. It’s worthless crap that’s holding back the species, and people like you happily feed the beast.

    If you can label yourself with the name of one tiny part of the political spectrum (“liberal” or “socialist” or “anarch-capitalist”) you have stopped thinking. I know you think you’re so clever, but it’s an illusion. You have shut off your critical thinking facilities and are engaged in endless confirmation bias. You are a throwback that humanity needs to evolve away from. You are a dying brach of the evolutionary tree.

  110. Quiet Desperation

    shane, who did you go to Antarctica with? I was looking at Lindblad Expeditions and their Antarctic and Galapagos packages. I thought the Galapagos trips had been stopped for environmental reasons, but I guess they are on again. The Indian Ocean one looks good, too.

    http://www.expeditions.com/index.asp

    I was waiting to retire, but I think I can retire at 50, so… I think that’s OK.

  111. Jose

    Can somebody give Jake a hug?

  112. Craig

    /me hugs Jake.

  113. turtlerex

    I’ve always felt that humanity’s journey through the atmosphere and out into our solar system was inevitable, in that it is our nature to proliferate despite all barriers. I have no doubt we will find a way to live and populate a place other than Earth, be it the moon, another planet, or even just orbiting stations. We have never been content to simply observe, we are compelled to experience; that is what will take us there and–assuming a long enough survival–perhaps even beyond our galactic neighborhood.

    Those of us alive today may not be here long enough to feel martian rocks under our feet as we walk home after a long day, but during our lifetimes the foundations of off-planet travel and living are being built. It is uncertain whether governments will race to secure land rights, or if corporations will vie for ever-greater attractions, or if dedicated scientists will continue to claw and bite their way upwards, pulling the rest of us up with them. I think the great thing about us is that no matter how, people will prevail and get there. One of us will have a great-great grandchild who is not born on Earth, but to a family surviving much the same as us, elsewhere.

    It would infinitely more pleasant if we could all be more accepting of each other on the journey, but it is the journey ahead none the less.

  114. Quiet Desperation

    Can somebody give Jake a hug?

    Will you pay me?

    QD != socialist ;-)

  115. So sad, I wish pessimist Socialist Worker Online had some common sense.

  116. Spacehamster

    This socialist screed doesn’t come as any surprise to me. Anytime a thread on space travel pops up on the message boards I read, its the socialists that always dismiss space travel as a waste of money and time. The argument is always “Why don’t we put our money into helping the poor, instead of wasting our money on something as worthless as space travel?”.

    The moral of this story? Socialism and Space Travel don’t mix.

  117. csrster

    I used to have a leftish friend in England (you yanks would probably call him a commie but he was actually pretty moderate by our standards) who was very interested in some of the more outre ideas in socialist thought. Apparently there was one particular theorist (Poujard I think (sp.?)) who believed that we contacting aliens was of vital importance to the cause. Aliens, you see, would inevitably be much more advanced than us, and would therefore have already passed through the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and reached the ultimate stage of Socialism. Therefore we could skip all the tribulations of revolutions and repression if only we could make contact with them and learn how to organise a perfect society.

    I leave it to the other commentators to make jejune comparisons between utopian political ideologies and other forms of millenarian thinking :-)

  118. csrster

    One more thing. The old British left have a special and deep loathing of Richard Branson, although I still have a soft spot for him for selling condoms in Ireland when it was still illegal.

  119. QD, I went with an Oz company called Aurora Expeditions (www.auroraexpeditions.com.au) who, for that particular trip, “borrowed” their ship from the kiwi based Heritage Expeditions (www.heritage-expeditions.com).

    It was into the region of Antarctica directly below Australia, East Antarctica – Commonwealth Bay and a bit into the Ross Sea. We stopped off at Macquarie Island and some other sub-antarctic islands on the way down and back. Only 48 passengers which was cool too.

    Now, when Aurora go to this region, they have a new boat. It carries 100 passengers and two helicopters. I would have killed to have a chopper ride on our trip but no choppers then unfortunately.

    They also have another ship for the more frequent shorter trips to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America. Some of those trips drop in at South Georgia and the Falklands. We’re going there next time although the Ross Sea trip with choppers is really tempting.

    Each trip will usually have a couple of experts on board – in our case we had a PhD whale expert and an old time (1950s-1970s) Antarctic scientist/explorer (he brought the age of exploration to life with his slides and stories). The guy that runs the company, Greg Mortimer, was the first Australian to climb Everest and the first Aussie to climb Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. He also lead our trip and is a great guy. Heaps of Antarctic tourism experience.

    Having said all that Lindblad Expeditions offer very similar trips. There are quite a few companies offering trips. I’d stick to trips that are in ice-breakers or ice-strengthened ships that carry fewer than say 110 passengers. 50 passengers is really good. No waiting for anything – going ashore, chopper rides, spending all day on the bridge, etc. Do not, if you have any expectation of landing anywhere, choose a company that offers trips that have more than 1oo or so passengers. The cruise ships that carry 400 people that advertise landings are very limited in giving landing opportunities and are little more than vandals when they do.

    One note about ice-breakers vs ice-strengthened. Ice breakers can charge through ice metres thick at 12 knots. Our ice-strengthened ship could only break through ice a metre or two thick at 4 knots. BUT, an ice-breaker will roll on a wet towel, so if you get sea sick… you will be sick a lot. Most trips are in the ice-strengthened ships and can get to most places anyway… with the usual caveats. We came within 20 or so kms of a French ice-breaker on a re-supply mission that had been stuck in the ice for a week. The dedicated ice-breakers are considerably more expensive trips too. If you have money to burn there is a Russian nuke ice-breaker that goes to the North Pole.

    Have fun.

    Apologies for the length of this post.

  120. Oh don’t pick on the Socialist Worker, you probably have a larger readership then they do.

  121. Ad Hominid

    csrster Says:
    Aliens, you see, would inevitably be much more advanced than us, and would therefore have already passed through the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and reached the ultimate stage of Socialism.

    One of my SF stories incorporates exactly this claim by neo-socialists after contact is made with an alien race. They are played off against neo-nazis who assert that the aliens must be a perfected form of Aryan, and fundamentalists who claim the whole thing is a secular-humanist hoax.

  122. Don’t like socialism Phil? Then don’t vote for Obama.

  123. leeobee

    Back in the seventies [in the SWP’s ‘heyday’] a British commentator described the Socialist Worker newspaper as ‘read by some socialists but few workers’. It’s even truer now than it was then. Being a half-hearted sort of leftie student at the time I very loosely associated with some of their members and went on a few demos. Essentially, you’d have the SWP,the RCT, RCP, WSL, WRP and RWP, IMG, BCP, all milling around selling their newspapers to each other. There were also the Spartacist and Militant tendencies but they were largely despised for splitting with the tri-acronymic orthodoxy.

    ‘The Life Of Brian’ was as much a satire of the British left in the 1970’s as it was one of religion.

  124. Air Travel is socialized. Trains, Subways and Rail is Socialized. Even our Highway system is socialized.

    Last time I checked, they still worked. Privatization of space is a fallacy. Its going to take a federalized management approach and be supported by tax dollars anyway.

    Socialized Corporatism. The way of the Republicans :)

  125. Quiet Desperation

    shane: thanks for the info. I’d heard of Aurora but hadn’t looked into them yet. With Lindblad, I like their partnership with National Geographic.

    For me a trip shouldn’t even be a huge bank breaker. I’ll probably go by myself, and I’m the sort who doesn’t require fancy accommodations. The smallest, cheapest cabin at the back is fine. All I need is a place to sleep and freshen up. I treat Vegas that way as well. :-)

    If you have money to burn there is a Russian nuke ice-breaker that goes to the North Pole.

    Ooo! That sounds cool. So to speak. ;-)

  126. QD, the cheapest option is the 3 or 4 share at the bottom* of the boat if you’re going solo – they usually put in with similarly aged people. You hang out in the lounge, wander the deck or on the bridge most of the time**. The bridge is very cool.

    *the crew bunk on the lowest deck.
    **make friends with the cook and you can hang out in the galley too if you’re that way inclined – we did :-)

  127. StevoR

    Hmm .. Socialists criticising the super-rich .. What a surprise – NOT! *Yawn* roll eyes *

    Socialism is NOT what most Americans (USA-ites for the geographical purists) think it is.

    It ain’t Leninism, nor Communism any more than neo-conservatives are neo-nazis.

    The happiest, most cosmopolitan and enlightened societies and nations in the world – Iceland, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Ireland*, – tend to have good mix of socialist and capaitalist features. These incl. good governence -accountable, democratic leadership and, yes, are also high-taxing and high social security and welfare providing.

    Free market capitalism that is unfettered gets you in a “Grapes of Wrath”
    type nightmare. (Read some Steinbeck folks – he was one US author and socialist that got things spot on.)

    As for private vs public space travel – judge them by their results
    NASA had men inspace inthe 1950’s,the Soviet’s had thefirstman inspace, first woman in space and many successful missions back inthe 50’s and still
    today. NASA got 12 people to the Moon. Built and flew the shuttle withgretasucccesses and theoddd catastrophic failure.

    Public space agencies (on behalf of all the people for everyone’s benefit)
    have launched and run all the space-probes to date from Magellan and Viking to Voyager and have sent four spacecraft beyond our solar system past the
    orbit of Pluto!

    Private space agencies (for the personal profit of a few superwealthy elitists) have … hmmm .. looks hard.. gets out microscope .. Ah yes, one or two sub-orbital flights with a couple of people pout in zero gee for a
    couple of minutes. So today they are where NASA was in the late 1950’s -60’s ..

    Those results speak for themselves. And much as I’d cheer Branson, Rutan &co on they say that Public is almost literally lightyears (or okay 100’s of AU at least!) ahead of private as far as space exploration goes. ;-)

    Lets not knock NASA too hard or be too ungrateful about them considering the
    magnitude of what they’ve achieved folks.

    rivate is still

    * For the record I’m an Aussie. Iceland topped the world according tohappiness and standard ofliving ina recent Un poll with theothers pretty much globally recognised for having good standards of living and being generally positive places tolive. The USA -soad tosay is along, long way behind them.

  128. StevoR

    Argh! Flippin’ typos! Goish-durrn dang-nabbed blinking bustard of a
    machine!

    Why can’t we edit? Not meaning to sound ungrateful here (esp. having just pointed out the ingratitude of others against NASA) but sheesh!

    Oh & Phil, your silly ‘no swearing’ policy has me sounding very much like Ned Flanders and I’m not like that – very frustrating.

    … But I love your blog all the same! ;-)

  129. Akheloios

    Criticising an entire group of people just because of their fringe lunatic elements? It’s a bit bellow you Phil, most of Europe is Socialist to one extent or the other, and we’re very happy thank you.

  130. Sarcastro

    Everything that I have done or achieved I have done it on my own without the help of others. Part of the reason that I have been so motivated to do the things that I have done is because I am compelled with the possibility of having a sizable monetary reward by the time I retire.

    Since you are utterly self-reliant I take it you will not be calling the police when I come to your home to kill you and take your hard earned money.

    And how the hell did you post this without using the ARPA-funded internet!?

  131. ArgusEyes, nice try, but Bzzzzt. I didn’t say I didn’t like socialism, I said I didn’t like what that paper had to say. I suppose the title could be interpreted to make people think I meant all socialism, but you can’t infer that from the article.

    Some socialism is a good thing, like health care and social security. Since McCain collects his SS check, do you want to call him a socialist too?

  132. PG

    Ijon Tichy: That’s because you’re blind or illiterate or exceedingly anal.

    Or it might mean that I saw the point of Phil’s post, and all you saw was something to be upset about and a reason to insult people.

  133. PG

    Sorry. Must’ve woke up on a rock this morning. I’ll feed no more trolls today!

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