Barnstorming the final frontier

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2010 8:58 am

In the first part of this post, Researching at the edge of space, I talked about the scientific frontier about to be opened up by suborbital flights up to 100 km (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface. The possibilities for science are exciting… but at the meeting I attended about these rockets, there was something else going on. And as interesting as the science involved with this will be, there was something bigger on everyone’s mind. At the meeting, the electricity about it was palpable, and it was obvious what it was.

We are at the very threshold of easy, inexpensive access for humans to space.

At $200,000, a flight to the edge of space is cheap. That’s well within the budget for a lot of people on this planet. Not me personally (dagnappit) but I know people who can afford that. And hundreds of human beings across the world have signed up.

This isn’t make believe. No, this is quite real. So real, in fact, that Alan Stern and Dan Durda, both friends of mine, both astronomers, and both men with their eyes firmly planted on the skies, created this video. You really, really need to see this.

They also have a followup video about the training of the first class of citizen astronauts as well.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will probably be the first company to launch private citizens into space. They have already sold 300 seats and have deposited $39 million in advance sales! At the meeting, Steven Attenborough with VG said that they expect Space Ship 2 to do a "drop test" (literally be hoisted up to 50,000 feet and dropped by an airplane for a test landing) in the fall of 2010, and undergo its first power tests by the end of the year.

Humans will then be loaded up and sent into space in 2011. That’s next year.

People always lament that we’re past the year 2000 and we still don’t have flying cars. Personally, I don’t trust 95% of the people driving on the ground, let alone in the air. But it doesn’t matter, because the future is here. It’s now. Next year, people will be flying into space. Into space.

This is beyond cool. This is fantastic!

No, scratch that. The base root of that word is fantasy, and this is as real as it gets. While a lot of people have been whining about how the future never comes, my friends and a lot of others will soon be strapping themselves into rockets and making the dreams of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and millions of others come true.

Per ardua ad astra. Hodie.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Space

Comments (83)

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  1. blue collar space – Amateurizing space flight | March 19, 2010
  1. Keith (the first one)

    Per ardua ad astra? Were you in the RAF, Phil?

    It’s mind blowing how this is now a reality. To think there are still people living on this planet who pre-date powered flight and this is happening now. Hopefully the price comes down soon though.

  2. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    RE: “… in the fall of 2010…”

    Err… autumn, not “fall”. :roll:

  3. I too wish that I had the means to plop down the price of a ticket.

  4. Ray

    $200,000? Why exactly would I want to spend 200k to get 15 minutes in a sub-orbital rocket plane?

    I got lots of better/more productive things to do with the money than that.

  5. drow

    and then… suborbital rocket racing!

  6. EEEEEEEEE!!! Sendmesendmesendme!

    Ahem, sorry. I’d love to take one of our low frequency radio telescopes up there, although, I think I need to get a bit higher to be free of the ionosphere.

  7. Sir Eccles

    @Ray

    – because you can
    – why wouldn’t you
    – omg
    – then do those other things but don’t look back later and say “I wish I had done…”

    I wish I had had the money to buy a ticket on Concorde before it was grounded, I wish I had an opportunity to see a shuttle launch, I wish I had…

  8. Yoeman

    Too cool, wish I had the $$ to do that myself. I couldn’t agree more about flying cars, most folks can’t even operate a manual transmission!

  9. Bad Albert

    Phil, I concur with your opinion about flying cars. Safe flying is a skill not suited to 99% of the general population. As a professional driver I’m on the road all day long and the things I see make me glad the general population have four wheels firmly planted on the ground, most of the time.

    I also agree with Ray @4. Why spend 200 grand for just a sub-orbital flight? A much better deal is to fly a Russian MiG to 80,000 feet for a tenth of the cost. I think the view from there would be just as good.

  10. Gus Snarp

    Why spend the money? To see something very few others will have seen, and more importantly, it’s probably your only chance to experience micro-gravity. It’s really about being the first, like first generation iPhone users. But as with iPhones, if you wait a little longer you’ll find that the third generation is cheaper and better.

  11. Doug

    This does not sound like a good idea at all to me. It’s conspicuous consumption on a scale 100,000 times worse than driving a Hummer to the store to buy a loaf of bread. Can’t humans find a way to amuse themselves without putting tons of dangerous pollutants into the air? If I had a spare $200,000 I might arrange a 3 month hike on the Appalachian Trail for a start … but generate more pollution than a thousand cars just for some amusement-park thrill? No way. That’s something like a sin, IMHO.

  12. Ray (#4): OK, then, don’t do it. But others feel differently.

    Doug (#11): It’s no worse a sin than, say, posting to a blog from a government computer, wouldn’t you say?

    Seriously, pushing the boundaries here in this way will pave the way for easier access to space, then orbit, then the Moon and beyond. Sometimes you have to pay a price to do more good later.

  13. Ld Elon

    This is stupidness, thee only personel whom should be leaving for the voidian makeup are engineers miners, un scientists, its not the place yet for space fans with too much money, buy some sense, innovate, wtf!

    I call for the grounding of none of thee above, until its deemed safe, un there are precedures of emerency rescue.

  14. There’s an important lesson to be learned about the future by looking at the past.

    We lament that we lack flying cars because we look at science fiction from the sixties and earlier and we’re kind of disappointed that 2010 didn’t turn out as predicted. What we forget is that a number of the technologies that we have now are far more advanced than was ever imagined fifty years ago.

    The computers in our cell phones are more powerful than the mainframes that managed the Apollo missions. We can synthesize and re-grow human organs. We’ve got flying robots that can deliver telemetry to and drop bombs on behalf of an operator on the other side of the planet.

    So what if we don’t have cities on the bottom of the ocean or the surface of the moon. So what if we don’t have jetpacks or flying cars. So what if we can’t teleport. We’ve got stuff that’s just as cool, we just don’t realize it because it’s not fantasy any more.

    The key lesson here is that the future will not unfold as we expect and that’s half the fun.

  15. Sarah

    Per ardua ad astra … I’m with you.

    But my childhood dreams of spaceflight ( by ‘2001’ ) have been dashed. The problem is energy. The step from the ground to flight was hard, but possible for anyone within 10 – 20 years. The _next_ step takes exponentially more energy, and the one after that, …. well. Gravity wells are deep.

    Until people control vastly larger energy reserves than individuals can afford now … ( Mr Fusion, anyone? ) spaceflight just can’t economically be “for everyone”. But, hey, those that are lucky enough to go … Go!

  16. BJN

    Airy fairy BS. These guys got free tickets for a 15 minute ride to the edge of space. Don’t tell me how burning fuel to haul tourists into space will give us a new perspective and respect for the planet. Notice how they don’t mention any of the “science” that they’ll be doing during the trip. What’s most disappointing is seeing how easy it is to get scientists to shill for the the amusement rocket industry.

    And yes, wasting resources and, what’s more, encouraging wasting of resources is a bigger sin than surfing and posting from a government computer. That was a rather cheap way of “outing” a blog follower.

  17. James

    To paraphrase Ferris, “If you have the means, I highly recommend(it). It is so choice.” If I had the money, I’d do it.

  18. Kaptain K

    Surely you can get the “hive overmind” to spring for the trip!

  19. DaveS

    Thomas @14, I can’t tell if you’re serious or being satirical. Dropping bombs better is progress? Does your cellphone accomplish more than the Apollo mainframe?

    I fall into the camp that says this is wasteful and indulgent. It’s just more evidence that the private space companies are casting about for new markets, since it’s not really a profitable venture in the first place.

  20. Anything is possible absent a government program to make it happen.

  21. drow

    “sending ships across the sea, out of sight of land, country, and god, into who knows what, dragons and sea monsters, for what? the possibility of a faster trade route for trinkets and luxuries? what a waste, when we have so many issues here in spain.”

    place your priorities where you will, but mine are getting humanity off this rock. if it takes wealthy tourists to blaze that trail, so be it. wealthy tourists also got us faster trans-atlantic steamships, air travel, and our national park system, so their record in these matters isn’t exactly poor.

  22. jasonB

    Wow, I wonder what the ‘carbon footprint’ of that joy ride will be? For Phil, a true believer in the AGW cause to be promoting such a blatant sin to the atmosphere for a mere fantasy flight could be cause for many an eyebrow to raise. Add this to a recent post extolling the chartering of a plane just to follow an eclipse and we might be seeing an official rebuke from the IPCC soon.

    Sometime though, the chance to take a rocket ride just makes some of us, well, see things a bit differently.

    For full disclosure. No tax dollars were used in the production of this post.

  23. Doug

    “It’s no worse a sin than, say, posting to a blog from a government computer, wouldn’t you say?”

    Are you serious? We gov’t employees are allowed a lunch hour to use as we wish, and we are allowed to use gov’t computers and internet connections for personal use up to a point. Is using “my” computer (the one allocated for my use at my job) like this any worse than if I use the phone on my desk to call my wife? You can’t possibly mean that it’s using resources or creating pollution on the same scale as launching rockets into space.

    re: Rocketing off into space just for fun, just because a group of people want to do it and can afford it.

    I don’t see how the morality of it is any different than if I and a group of my friends pooled our resources and purchased a huge parcel of forested land and set it on fire, just because, you know, we think fires are really neat-o, and we can afford it, it’s our money and no one has a right to tell us how to spend it, and if anyone complains it’s because they’re jealous and trying to incite ‘class warfare’, and if our fun pollutes the environment, well, too bad — our amusement is worth it! Oh, and we promise to do some “science” while we toast marshmallows on the great conflagration and the whole thing, which we’ll share with you on an ‘interactive’ website, we give all humanity a new perspective on life and trees and rocks and things.

  24. Sir Eccles

    What’s with the sudden influx of commenters calling things “a sin”, it’s weirding me out.

    Was it a sinful waste of resources for Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic? What a cheap thrill to try and win a prize. What a sinful waste of his time when he should have been delivering mail rather than advancing the science of long distance flight.

  25. llewelly

    Phil Plait:

    Doug (#11): It’s no worse a sin than, say, posting to a blog from a government computer, wouldn’t you say?

    Pretty good comparison Phil – the chances it will benefit society as a whole are about the same.

  26. Ad Hominid

    Jason, I calculate that the carbon footprint of Spaceship 2 (a few tons or so per flight) is about the same as that generated by several hundred luddites driving their SUVs to church on Sunday, and much less than that of the average bass tournament.

    Since I didn’t do so well in my last such tournament (fish no longer fear me), I will forego the next one and donate that portion of the carbon footprint toward offsetting a Spaceship 2 flight.

    Regards,
    AH (noted redneck scientist)

  27. amphiox

    “sending ships across the sea, out of sight of land, country, and god, into who knows what, dragons and sea monsters, for what? the possibility of a faster trade route for trinkets and luxuries? what a waste, when we have so many issues here in spain.”

    Change “spain” to “China” circa the 1420’s and you’ve almost got a historical quote, particularly the parts about “trinkets and luxuries” and “waste”.

    We already know what ended up happening there. (Hint – the language of commerce today isn’t mandarin, though granted it is possible it might be so at some point in the future)

  28. Hari Seldon

    I don’t think Issac Asimov would sign up for this ride. As I recall, he did not like to fly. I suppose that he was dreaming that guys like us would go in his place.

  29. The important thing here is the transition from government project to corporate project and the transition from corporate service to private service. This is an indicator of major advancement: that a corporation can offer private citizens a trip into space is a big deal. The ethics of it or even the measure of desirability are interesting topics but side issues. What’s cool here is that something really big shifted.

  30. amphiox

    #23:
    The difference (which I thought would be obvious to everyone) is that one activity is an early step along a road towards a technological capability that is 100% ESSENTIAL to our ultimate long term survival as a species, and the other activity is not.

    Also apropos to this false analogy, what is seldom mentioned is the simple fact that large scale space travel technology is also THE ONLY PRACTICAL method of truly long term ecological preservation of earth. Short of genetically engineering and cloning a better, kinder, wiser, and smarter version of humanity and simultaneously exterminating the rest of us, if we do not leave this planet in large numbers, we will destroy our environment through the simple conduct of the activities we need and must do to keep on living, no matter how eco-conscious and careful we try to be, or think we are capable of being. IT IS GUARANTEED. It may not happen for a long time if we are careful, BUT IT WILL, sooner or later. Unless we leave.

    (And if it turns out to be impractical to ever leave this planet in large numbers, then quite frankly, we are doomed. End of story.)

    So, if burning that forest is in some unlikely hypothetical scenario an application of a technology (that will lead to the popularization and subsequent further development of said technology) that will, say, lead to the development of a carbon neutral renewal energy source, then the analogy is more justified, and burning down that forest, even if the proximate motivation is just for kicks, is, in fact, JUSTIFED.

  31. The idea that every expression of every step in technological advancement has to have its own, intrinsic, universally positive value smells strongly of a similar fallacy from creationists.

    It is entirely possible that some necessary steps appear to have low or even negative intrinsic value except as a step towards something with very high positive value. Low value effects (space tourism) can be expressions of an actual high value cause (space is getting exploitable cheaply).

  32. Seriously, pushing the boundaries here in this way will pave the way for easier access to space, then orbit, then the Moon and beyond. Sometimes you have to pay a price to do more good later.

    That’s making a broad assumption: that the companies doing this have any goal even remotely related to that in mind. Imagine, if you will, saying the same thing about any major motor company in the US fifty years ago. “They’re paving the way for safer and more fuel-efficient transportation in the future!”

    Nope. The advances we got in useful areas came about almost entirely through regulation – the corporations didn’t have the faintest interest in anything but the bottom line (say it with me: “Pinto.”) It was only when safety became either a selling point or a requirement that it started to figure in automakers plans.

    I’m all for private companies to forge ahead, but I can’t see them as being the answer to anyone’s dreams. And yes, this is conspicuous consumption. As BJN says, there’s no science going on with this – that’s because we achieved suborbital hops, what, fifty years ago?

    But as long as they offer a T-shirt with it (and a chance for someone to flash their boobies at the camera at apogee,) I think it’ll be great. In ten years, the “firsts” will be done and it’ll be too common for anyone to want to spend the money, and the bottom will drop out.

    That’s if they manage not to blow a re-entry and kill a bunch of passengers before then. It’s funny how so many rail about shuttle safety but don’t say a damn thing about an unregulated private company and civilians in the place of trained, prepared astronauts. But as long as the government isn’t doing it, it’s okay? As long as my tax dollar didn’t fund it, it’s innovative and cutting-edge?

    Now, another bit of perspective. What do you use as your measuring stick to see if this is really a better way of doing it? Do we start with the date when Rutan and Scaled Composites conceived the successful flights? That was 1996, for SpaceShipOne. Or do we start with the first private companies to approach the idea? That was somewhere around 1972 with Robert Truax, at least. How many companies failed? I’m not sure there’s an accurate way to count them – I can name several off the top of my head from the past decade.

    There’s no innovation here – everything that the current crop of space companies is accomplishing, or even aiming to accomplish, was done decades ago. The keyword is “civilian,” but so what? I think it’s great that they’re doing it – and perhaps a measure of their corporate profit structure that they even can. But this means absolutely nothing to any innovations in space travel until they’ve demonstrated something that we have not already accomplished, and they’re a long ways from doing that.

    And hope, if and when they do, that the price is better than what we would have given NASA to do it. I mean, we are shelving our manned space programs in favor of private companies for a particular reason, aren’t we? Somebody did actually run some numbers and projections, right? Or is it just wishful thinking?

  33. jasonB

    @ Ad Hominid

    I wish you better luck in your next tourney. Keep that foot print for yourself. Go with a good group or individual and enjoy!

    I’ll be mountain biking or playing roller hockey, and hoping that ship goes up without a hitch and that a lot more follow it.

  34. Harry

    I have to admit, I have trouble imagining that I would pay $200,000 for a 15 minute flight. But on the other hand there do exist people with sufficient money that this would be a drop in the ocean, so I’m not surprised that a market exists.

    I’m seriously excited about the prospect of sending researchers up there though. This is changing space science from a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to something that most universities could find the cash to do. Now, all I need is a way to convince them that there’s a good reason to send string theorists up on these – any suggestions will be greatly appreciated…

  35. Keith (the first one)

    @ Just Al (and other ignorant types)

    You’ve used a lot of words to just say ‘I’m ignorant about it, therefore don’t like it so no one should do it’. The science involved here is actually making this stuff possible. There’s the innovation. They might have got people into space in the ’60s, but you couldn’t do it for $200,000 with that technology.

    As for accidents, the first commercial jet airliner suffered from catastrophic failures, yet somehow we all got through that. Also, what makes you think that this would be unregulated and that the crew would not be trained?

  36. DaveS

    Uncle Al @20, I believe NASA is shoveling money into the contenders, am I mistaken? If so, that’s government money, and I imagine the only thing keeping these corporate dreams afloat.

    drow@21, This isn’t any heroic step. It’s a rethinking of how the money is routed. Fact is, the first suborbital rockets were in the 40s, and the first suborbital humans in the 50s. Putting payloads in orbit is 60 years old, and for several countries it’s old hat. Simply stated, they’re not sailing the ships over the horizon, they’re sailing them across the harbor. Everyone ELSE is sailing them over the horizon, and has been for 60 years.

    The figure $200,000 makes me think about my fellow man and those worse off than me. I doubt whether I’d spend that figure purely on my own 15 minutes of fun.

  37. This makes me incredibly happy. The odds that I will get to travel into space before I die (provided I live another 50 years or so) are getting better every year!

  38. AlexB

    Doug- Im on your side Sir…This is ridiculous. As a student of science myself, I can see how ppl like Phil & others would like this idea…but privatizing space flight is a HORRIBLE idea…privatization has done nothing but destroy our own planet, havent we learned a lesson? must we make the same mistakes in space? how long before we put a Mcdonalds on the moon? space and spaceflight belong to no1.. esp. not to some multibillionaire who’s just out to make some more money.

    “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
    -J.J. Rousseau

    Let the same be true of our next frontier, space, b4 we repeat our past mistakes.

  39. BJN (#16): If you had bothered to click the very first link in my post, you’d see I did in fact talk about the science that’s possible during these trips. And that post has even more links as well. Just because you don’t know what science can be done doesn’t mean no science can be done.

    As far as pollution goes, and to those accusing me of lamenting global warming while promoting this, have any of you looked into how much pollution this generates before accusing me? Or how it compares to, say, the pollution and carbon footprint of a coal mining factory, or an airplane ride, or that’s generated by traffic in one major city that could have mass transit implemented? Just curious.

  40. Assuming something doesn’t happen with these suborbital flights that puts people off from doing it for a decade or more…I am thinking of a Challenger type event of course, I hope the biggest thing that comes of this isn’t that a bunch of people got to go on a joy ride…its that they come back forever changed about the nature of life and the universe, and realize our existence is alot more fragile than alot of people realize. Those who can afford $200,000 joy rides are also some of the same people in a position to change the world in fundamental ways…

    I wished we all could do this for the very same reason. I think it would lead to a profound revolution in our thinking and view of existence.

  41. T_U_T

    Don’t get me wrong. I applaud any one who tries to get men in space by what ever means, and for what ever purpose ( military aggression and such excluded ).
    But I don’t think that Private is magic.
    No one can cheat physics. Not even greedy or enthusiastic millionaires.
    Chemical propulsion will always be costly because no chemicals can pack enough energy in small enough chunk of matter to get anything to space without working at the very edge of what the materials can endure. And that is the definition of costly.
    Nothing can change that.

  42. Mike Mullen

    Ah yes we should leave spaceflight in the capable hands of government agencies, they won’t squander vast quantities of resources on vehicles that don’t work or expose the men and women they send into space to easily avoidable risks will they?

  43. James

    Why would anyone be negative about this?

    What is the point of being alive, unless we try to push the boundaries of our species?

    With the population increasing as it is, we have no choice but to expand out into space. Unless you would rather we have more and more wars to keep the population down. But time is against us and we are seriously behind schedule…

    The faster this sort of thing becomes commonplace, the sooner ‘real’ space-flight will become commonplace. This little cradle is starting to get claustrophobic…

    We have the ‘way’, now all we need is the ‘will’.

  44. Steve D

    Thomas (14) is dead on. The world Arthur C. Clarke pictured in 2001 (the novel) was a lot poorer than ours. And even where the technology was more advanced than ours, in many respects we are beyond that. We would not make space travelers wear hair nets or velcro slippers – we’d just tell people to get short haircuts and teach them to move carefully in zero g. And the stereotypical crew in 2001, macho pilots and cute stewardesses, all white? Fuhgeddaboudit! When we do have regular flights to the moon, the pilots are as likely to be women as men. And Clarke never dreamed that we’d have detailed images of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn long before 2001.

    Lots of beneficial technology started out as toys for those rich enough to afford the luxury. Bicycles were originally downhill coasters without pedals. Automation traces its ancestry to the punch cards of the Jacquard loom, which were used to weave fancy cloth for rich folks. How many of us have put off buying something until enough rich folks have bought it for the economies of scale to kick in?

    But going TO someplace is a whole other ball game from just clearing the atmosphere. The image of “private” space colonization is that our intrepid explorer will pitch his little living module on an asteroid, seed his hydroponic garden, and have it made. Try living in your house for a year off whatever you can produce without leaving the house, and let me know how it works. Oh, that means recycling all your wastes and water, too.

  45. QuietDesperation

    the pollution and carbon footprint of a coal mining factory,

    I was with you until here. What the heck is a coal mining factory? You mean a factory where they make equipment for coal mines? Factories that burn coal? Huh? Wha?

    Yeah, I’m being difficult. It’s Friday. Posting from a privately owned computer, BTW.

    As for accidents, the first commercial jet airliner suffered from catastrophic failures,

    You talking about the Boeing 707 or the De Havilland Comet? Probably the Comet. It did have some (*haughty sniff*) design flaws.

    No worries. Boeing came along with the 707 to show everyone how to take care of business. ;-) USA! USA!

    Ah, it’s a pretty thing!

  46. Allen

    No one said it would be 100% safe. To push the boundaries is to flirt with death.

    Anyway, I can’t wait for this. I’d like to own a house on the Moon before I die. :)

  47. Brian Too

    Wow, somebody must haved peed in some of these poster’s Corn Flakes! What’s up with all the negativity?

    It’s not about private versus public transport. It’s about cost and accessibility. The significance of the private sector involvement here is as means to drive down costs. Also, the private sector’s stated goals are to take passengers so they have an incentive to be accessible and available to members of the public who are interested.

    Contrast that with NASA, who used to get grumpy every time the Russians took a private citizen up to the ISS! Not that NASA didn’t have a point, but the issue is that NASA simply isn’t mandated to carry private passengers and their culture tends to exclude anyone who isn’t an insider (scientist, technologist, pilot, etc.).

    I’ll bet that soon these private space firms are carrying experiments, cargo, and all manner of things into space. Not just rich tourists. I’ll further bet that the passenger seats are all removable, and relatively easily too, to make way for cargo. Modern planes are nearly all built this way.

  48. olderwithmoreinsurance

    Just Al and Doug above make a lot of sense. I wish Virgin Galactic all the luck in the world but spaceshiptwo is basically just a joy ride for rich folks, nothing more, nothing less. (space-x on the other hand, has a CHANCE of really lowering the cost to LEO, which may well be MUCH more important in the long run). You can have more fun, for a LOT less money ($10K or so) by booking a flight with the zero-g company (of course, then you wouldn’t be able to tell your equally rich friends that you’ve been into space!)
    As for the science to be done with sub-orbital flights, I’m EXTREMELY skeptical that that’s a paying proposition. We’ve been doing it for over 50 years and it’s not at all clear that scientists can pay enough (to get enough flights) to make these ventures successful (this will mostly be your tax dollars at work here as few commercial companies will be involved or they’d already be doing it). Outside of the first UV astronomy and a few other things, the science hasn’t really been anything to write home about from sub-orbital hops and all the easy stuff was done long ago.
    The smart money is don’t put YOUR money there (or else why hasn’t SOMEONE else done this before, as it’s old technology, to repeat myself).

  49. Your Name Here

    Well, once this gets up and running, we can say goodbye to all remaining flat-earthers!

    Good riddance.

  50. No, olderwithmoreinsurance (#49), you are wrong. As I said above, the links in the previous post (linked at the top of this very post) show that there is a lot of science that can be done on these flights, and can be done a lot cheaper than using orbital or sounding rockets.

    The links I put in these posts are for further information, folks. Please check them out and get informed before forming an opinion.

  51. gopher65

    Doug: You’d be amazed at the amount of pollution created by clicking a link on the internet. A million different little machines (and many big, giant ones) have to work perfectly in order for your request to be fulfilled. Course, those machines would be running anyway (for the most part), even if *you* didn’t click that link, because someone else would be using them if you weren’t. But the ol’ “if I didn’t do it then someone else would” justification doesn’t get you off the hook:P.

    You almost certain will generate more pollution clicking links during your lunch break over the course of your career than a thrill rider will when taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the edge of space. The only difference is that your pollution is spread out over a greater timespan.

  52. Scott

    Am I the only person who completely read the Latin tag? Per Ardua Ad Astra – some noticed. Through Hardship To The Stars. I don’t think anyone noticed the important word – Hodie – today!

    We are in the future. We are matter of factly talking about ordinary (rich) human beings going into space. We are having a discussion with people in different continents using tools as good as Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke wrote about.

    Humans have not changed in millennia but the world has. Just about everything now could have been in science fiction 60 years ago. For a moment, just put aside the boring. The world is fantastic, in the original sense as well.

    We just have to convince everyone else now…

  53. After about 5 minutes of research I found out that Spaceship 2 uses Carbonfiber and most rocket engines byprodocts are fairly benign.

  54. Asimov Fan

    @29. Hari Seldon Says:

    I don’t think Issac Asimov would sign up for this ride. As I recall, he did not like to fly. I suppose that he was dreaming that guys like us would go in his place.

    Correct – Isaac Asimov had a fear of flying and rarely travelled although he did take a couple of ocean cruises. Yes, Asimov was very much pro-space exploration – and human space exploration at that – & would, I feel sure, have loved seeing this.

    BTW. Great moniker here! ;-)

    One of Asimov’s stories this discussion strongly reminds me of is the novella The Martian Way where :

    Mario Rioz and Ted Long are Scavengers, Mars-born humans who scour space for the spent lower stages of spacecraft. … Rioz is tense because the trip has been unprofitable. He chews Long out for wasting power listening to some “Grounder” (Earth-born) politician named John Hilder making a speech. As Rioz listens to the speech, he realizes that Hilder is saying that Earth’s settlements on Mars, Venus, and the Moon are useless drains on Earth’s economy, and that spaceships are wasting irreplaceable water by using it as reaction mass.

    A year later, Hilder has used his campaign against “Wasters” to gain power in Earth’s Assembly, and has just reduced shipments of water to Mars, putting the Scavengers out of work. Rioz thinks the Martians should raid Earth’s oceans for water, but Long disagrees. He has a plan of his own to deal with the water crisis. When Hamish Sankov, the head of the Martian colony, learns of Hilder’s plan to cut off all water shipments to Mars, he authorizes Long’s plan: to travel to Saturn and tow a fragment of the rings—which is almost pure water—back to Mars.

    … A fleet of 25 Scavenger ships makes the trip, and the crews discover en route that they enjoy floating out in space. Reaching the rings, the Scavengers choose a fragment approximately one cubic mile in volume, reshape it into a rough cylinder, embed their ships in it, and fly it like a giant ship back to Mars. Using the fragment’s ice as reaction mass, they are able to make the return trip in five weeks.

    On Mars, a group of Hilder’s allies is pressuring Sankov to sign an agreement ending all water exports to the Martian colony. When he hears from the returning Scavengers, Sankov signs. Two days later, the Scavengers land in full view of the press. Sankov announces that the fragment they brought holds a 200-year supply of water, and that if Earth can’t afford to lose any more water, the Martians will be happy to sell them some of theirs. Now that the Martians have turned the tables on Hilder’s anti-Waster campaign, his power in the Assembly will wane. Long, meanwhile, is confident that it will not be Earthlings but Martians, with their greater acclimation to space travel, who will settle the outer worlds of the Solar System, and eventually, the stars—because that is the Martian way.

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_Way

    Knocking space development for over-zealous, anti-science environmentalist reasons strikes me as short-sighted and mean-spirited stupidity.

    Don’t forget the environmental movement was in part inspired and created by the famous “Full Earth” photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 8 back in Dec. 1968.

    Good science and good scientific progress make good allies with reasonable environmentalism.

    Unreasonable environmentalism is the worst enemy of moderate environmentalism and discredits and creates antipathy for the Green cause. Environmental “preachers” who seek to impose their intolerant views upon everyone without making reasonable allowences or exceptions; who are trying to do so by legal compulsion or shaming of “sinners” are as bad as the religious preachers who attempt the same. Such people are almost always counter-productive and cause a backlash against their preferred ideology.

    In My Humble Opinion & Experience.

    PS. If I had the money(which I don’t) I would LOVE to go! 8)

  55. kat wagner

    @ jasonB. What he said. You all go. I’ll be hiking, running, composting, gardening, planting trees & checking out all the cool bugs I find. My dog & I like it here & if my husband can’t take his motorcycle he won’t go either. ~:-]

  56. Paul M

    The carbon footprint of “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” can be significant when it involves a woman in Argentina.

  57. Plutonium being from Pluto

    I hope this happens as the BA suggests but I’m not going to believe it until I see it.

    Private space groups have planned great things & promised much many, many times before only to dash those hopes and let us down. :-(

    I wish them luck and hope I’m wrong but I wouldn’t count on it.

    @ Ferris Valyn, I’ve replied to your comment # 7. answering my comment # 5 on the other thread – comment # 29.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/03/18/researching-at-the-edge-of-space/comment-page-1/#comment-254370

    @ 22. jasonB Says:

    Wow, I wonder what the ‘carbon footprint’ of that joy ride will be? For Phil, a true believer in the AGW cause to be promoting such a blatant sin to the atmosphere for a mere fantasy flight could be cause for many an eyebrow to raise. Add this to a recent post extolling the chartering of a plane just to follow an eclipse and we might be seeing an official rebuke from the IPCC soon.

    Good point & well said.

    Believing in science and skepticism and being an optimist about our science and technology is incompatible with believing the environmental ideology & having faith in the failing Anthropogenic Global Warming cult. Huamn C02 is NOT the root of all evil and having a large carbon footprint is no “sin.”

    Of course, the IPCC are going to be too busy issuing retractions and trying to hide and excuse their corruption & total inaccuracy to issue rebukes for sometime yet. ;-)

  58. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ the followers of the environmental religion & anti-carbon cult here – shouldn’t you over-zealous, puritanical, people-hating bunch of Luddites be off your computers and living naked in caves like the stone age savages you idolise instead? :-P

    The Anthropogenic Global Warming scare is a politically motivated myth.

    * If * it is happening at all ..

    &

    * If * it turns out to be a bad thing rather than beneficial, …

    Then it will be solved by scientific technological methods and not by excessive taxes, harsh legislaton, restricting people to miserable lives by shaming & persecuting those you see as guilty of carbon “sins”.

    @ 23. Doug Says:

    re: Rocketing off into space just for fun, just because a group of people want to do it and can afford it.

    I don’t see how the morality of it is any different than if I and a group of my friends pooled our resources and purchased a huge parcel of forested land and set it on fire, just because, you know, we think fires are really neat-o, and we can afford it, it’s our money and no one has a right to tell us how to spend it, and if anyone complains it’s because they’re jealous and trying to incite ‘class warfare’, and if our fun pollutes the environment, well, too bad — our amusement is worth it! Oh, and we promise to do some “science” while we toast marshmallows on the great conflagration and the whole thing, which we’ll share with you on an ‘interactive’ website, we give all humanity a new perspective on life and trees and rocks and things.

    Hey, if YOU own the land then its YOUR land and, YES, you can do what you like with it as long as your not hurting anyone or breaking the law.

    People having mammoth bonfires for their own enjoyment and entertainment is their right – if its their property – and so is having fun going into space if they’ve got the money.
    As long as they are willing to take the responsibilityand the consequences that’s entirely up to them.

    If environmentalists don’t like it, then tough, they should get out, earn the money and buy the land themselves.

    You (& other environmentalist zealots) do NOT have the right to tell others what to do with their hard-earned cash or what they can do on their land. Period.

  59. @ Keith (the first one) #36

    @ Just Al (and other ignorant types)

    Thanks for the compliment! Coming from someone who flunks reading comprehension in the same post, I’ll file it where it belongs.

    You’ve used a lot of words to just say ‘I’m ignorant about it, therefore don’t like it so no one should do it’.

    I said, twice, that I think it’s great that the companies are doing it. How did you manage to get to your comment from there?

    What I addressed was that it was supposed to be a fantastic step forward for manned space flight. It isn’t. Right now, no one can demonstrate that it accomplishes any of the goals we have had for the past two or three decades.

    The science involved here is actually making this stuff possible. There’s the innovation.

    Such as?

    They might have got people into space in the ’60s, but you couldn’t do it for $200,000 with that technology.

    Neither are they, Quickdraw. It’s $200,000 per passenger, projected cost. And they haven’t done it yet. Think they’d be running mostly empty?

    But yeah, you hit on part of the issue without even realizing it. Technology has come a long ways since we first did it, and the various companies are taking advantage of that. But this is hardly “innovative” – NASA can do the same thing. NASA was the source of much of it. You still haven’t addressed what a private company does that a government one cannot, except not spend government money. Of course, that holds up until the government wants to get anything at all out of the program. Then how much does it cost?

    Like I said, if it isn’t cheaper than the government doing it by itself, then why pursue private spaceflight, or think that it’s great? Tourists flights to 100K altitude are a long ways from the stuff we’ve been doing, and will still need to do.

    As for accidents, the first commercial jet airliner suffered from catastrophic failures, yet somehow we all got through that.

    I don’t have a problem with accidents from spaceflight – I never have. It’s a risk that we take. What I brought up were the whiners who do, who think the shuttle program is a failure because there have been accidents, who are suddenly quiet now. Does this mean they think Virgin Galactic can’t have an accident? Private companies don’t have either oversight or accountability – that means nothing in place to answer that question in any way. While the shuttle program should definitely have had tighter oversight, the answer to that problem is not, “none at all.”

    Let me, however, put this in perspective, before you shoot off again. I think if I had the choice of anyone doing this, it would be Rutan, who has repeatedly demonstrated a phenomenal knowledge of aerospace physics. That’s a big plus. But that’s not the same as putting anything in place to ensure that certain criteria are met.

    Oh, yeah, commercial flights. One of the biggest issues was metal fatigue from pressurizing cabins, which caused a lot of fatalities. No one, no matter how schooled in aircraft design, called that one. This came at a time when there was a huge demand for commercial jet flight, with lots of competition, and the investigations and redesigns held things back for years – de Havilland pretty much lost the commercial market because of it. How many private companies do you think would weather out the same kind of issue from a catastrophic space flight, as opposed to simply dumping the idea because it wasn’t economically feasible? And then what?

    Also, what makes you think that this would be unregulated and that the crew would not be trained?

    Right now, the FAA and NTSB are petitioning to have jurisdiction over civilian spaceflight – with the typical government speed, this might get approved before the regular tourist flights, but I’m not counting on it. It probably wouldn’t mean much, since neither has much of a background in the field.

    As for the crew? I said nothing about them. These are passenger flights. The biggest stink of the Challenger accident was that a schoolteacher was on board. Yeah, she’d been trained, too, a lot longer than any passenger on SpaceShipTwo, I’m willing to bet. Did that make it better to anyone? Did that make any difference when a mechanical failure destroyed the flight?

    Now, try looking at it from the right perspective. What makes you think that there will be proper regulations? Don’t you find this a stupid thing to assume?

    Finally, how about a very simple thing: Let private companies pursue their own interests while we maintain a serious space program with government oversight, clear goals, and proper funding. Use whatever innovations either “side” brings to the table. Doesn’t that sound a lot more feasible, and a much stronger guarantee of results?

  60. olderwithmoreinsurance

    @phil Oh, I read those links before I posted (I already knew about the meeting beforehand as it got a fair bit of press). Doesn’t change my conclusions one iota. read the fine print: almost ALL the money being put forward for the sub-orbital science is being provided by your tax dollars (as I said) thru a $15 million allocation from NASA (and that’s not going to be enough to sustain these programs for long, especially given a fairly predictable failure rate). Generally, the same basic science that’s been done for the last 60 years (and there will probably be at least a few new ideas as the volume available will be larger). Not BAD science, just not particularly interesting unless you work in that field. People who do this type of small science are of course THRILLED to find a newer and bigger pot of money to draw from and that’s why so many people were there (I would be too). Nothing wrong with any of that, but also very little that’s new. Let’s both wait 5 years and count the publications and their citations.

  61. simonsimple

    Don’ tell the Muslims, they’ll just fly it into the Earth or the ISS then we’ll have to enter a protracted land battle on the Moon for oil and eventually elect a woman president lol.

  62. T_U_T

    People having mammoth bonfires for their own enjoyment and entertainment is their right – if its their property – and so is having fun going into space if they’ve got the money.

    As long as the smoke stays on their property forever. Which is unfortunately not the case.

  63. MadScientist

    What altitude would be considered ‘space’, and how long does the flight at or above that altitude last? I see it this way: (1) it won’t be far enough from the earth to see that ‘pale blue dot’, (2) unless there is a large window on top of the vehicle, my view outside will be contaminated by the glow of the atmosphere, (3) if there is a window so I can stare right into space, that’s a hell of a lot of money to go “ooh, look at how dark it is – and how many stars I can see – and none of them twinkle!” for a few minutes. I literally couldn’t flush that sort of money down the toilet at the same rate.

    @Just Al: I wouldn’t worry at all about regulation and such. There really is virtually no threat to anyone on the ground.

  64. Thameron

    Well this will make spaceflight slightly more relevant to the wealthy. I’ll reserve judgment on the efficacy of that until the data is in. If the evidence subsequently supports cheering then I shall cheer.

    but this –
    “will soon be strapping themselves into rockets and making the dreams of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and millions of others come true.” Is another case of the good Doctor’s excessive optimism.

    Yeah they will be in a rocket, but the Authors you mention dreamed of humans going to the other planets and the stars. And neither of those things will happen on a time scale that anything but a bristlecone pine might call ‘soon’. This is a bold new adventure in the same way that having lunch on your porch is a vacation.

  65. Sometimes you have to pay a price to do more good later.

    True, but it’s important to know what the price really is, and who is going to pay it. We don’t want progress just at any price.

    For what it’s worth (one would ideally like to see an independent audit) from the environment page of Virgin Galactic’s website (linked by Phil in the previous post):

    “Virgin Galactic is a unique, clean-tech project which has as its mission the transformation in safety, cost and environmental impact of access to space for people, scientific research and small satellites.”

    and

    “In terms of carbon footprint, current calculations suggest that emissions per passenger, per trip, will be approximately 0.8 tonnes – less than a one-way flight from London to New York.”

    It’s not clear if that’s the marginal emissions per flight (I suspect it is) or if it’s 0.8 tonnes C or CO2 (factor of 3 difference) or the full emission cost including infrastructure and so forth. With the sort of carbon prices that get tossed around in debates on cap-and-trade, 0.8 tonnes CO2 might add tens of dollars to the ticket price – room for a couple of orders of magnitude underestimation by Virgin without changing the economics appreciably.

    Someone else can do the hard work on Blue Origin.

  66. T_U_T

    Yeah they will be in a rocket, but the Authors you mention dreamed of humans going to the other planets and the stars. And neither of those things will happen on a time scale that anything but a bristlecone pine might call ’soon’.

    And what is going to be different in the distant future to allow manned space travel ? Different chemistry ? Different physics ? Will hydrogen suddenly produce an order of magnitude more energy than now ? Or is the steel going to have ten times higher strength.
    Is radiation from nuclear fission/fusion to be order of magnitude smaller ?
    Not gonna happen. humans in the year 3000 will have to use the same physics and chemistry than we today to get off this rock. Either we can do it now, or we can not.

  67. Thameron

    “And what is going to be different in the distant future to allow manned space travel ?”

    A fair question and since this is the future we are speaking of I can only give you speculation. What will be different is the degree of our understanding. Our understanding of biology is really in its infancy. If we can get it to the point where we can find drugs and/or treatments that will undo the effects of cellular radiation damage then that will make space travel a lot more feasible. I am optimistic about that because there are already organisms on our planet which can do things like re-grow lost limbs. Similarly there are organisms which can survive a vacuum so we just need to learn those tricks, not change the laws of physics. Also there are organisms which can either hibernate or self-desiccate so that they can be revived fully functional a long time later. Again nothing impossible there, but not easy either. Either of those technologies would allow storing people for long space voyages either within our solar system or for interstellar journeys.

    Presently our atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from cosmic radiation. Materials science or electrical engineering may make it possible to do the same for spacecraft. Of course if all else fails in the shielding department one could always hollow out a few asteroids and set them in good shuttle orbits to any of the planets and just ride them around the solar system like a cabin cruiser. That would be slow, but it would shield you from the radiation and you would get there eventually.

    I don’t know if portable fusion will ever be possible, but portable fission power units already exist and have powered all of the outer solar system probes.

    So there you have it. Fission powered space ships, asteroid space-liners, biological radiation resistance/hibernation. It isn’t really a matter of possibility. None of this requires impossible (as far as we know) warp-drive technology. It is simply a matter of sufficient desire and a few technological advances.

  68. Gary Ansorge

    67. T.U.T:

    Some of your questions are easily answerable.

    1) “chemistry,,,physics,,,hydrogen
    1b) No,No and NO.

    2) “Or is the steel going to have ten times higher strength.”
    2a) We generally don’t use steel for space craft structural material. Instead we use carbon, since it can be 10 times lighter and 10 times stronger than steel(lb for lb)

    3) “Is radiation from nuclear fission/fusion to be order of magnitude smaller ?”
    3a) Easy to answer. The Boron 11 + proton fusion reaction is one BILLION times less radioactive (actually less productive of neutrons, which is the most difficult radiation to protect against) than the deuterium/tritium cycle, which is somewhat less neutron productive than your typical fission cycle.

    We CAN do it now. It just takes time.

    39. AlexB:

    ““The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,”

    The first man to OWN property was making beer and had to secure his source of grain, which gave rise to a security force, technocrats to build and maintain the fermenting barrels, planners(read as: aristocracy), and a labor force(read: peons).

    We crossed that Rubicon a long time ago. It’s been said(by whom, I don’t recall) that the development of agriculture was the single biggest mistake humanity ever made(I guess leaving the trees was the second biggest). With agriculture came population increase and we’ve been trying to stay ahead of that curve for millennia. We can’t go back to a pastoral existence w/o decimating the human population and I for one choose to live. If that means expansion into space, then so be it.

    Every advance comes with a price. Part of that price is a longing for the “good old days”, when we were free of control by parties uninterested in our tribal values and we could eat the fruit of the earth(whenever we could FIND it).

    Human population, before agriculture, has been estimated at 20 million, world wide. Does anyone want to be part of the nearly 7 billion that would have to die for humanity to regress to the “good old ways”?

    I’ll keep pumping the old treadmill, struggling to keep feeding our highly successful species, until we reach some plateau where access to energy/material resources can keep ahead of population. The only environment I know of that can enable that scenario is beyond earth.

    ALL Malthusian projections assume a closed environment. Within that limitation, the models of population expansion/collapse are fairly accurate however, if we enjoy an OPEN environment, there are no limits. Extra planetary space opens our environment.

    I expect the settling of that environment will be long, initially very difficult and expensive but it will get easier. We may accelerate that expansion with self replicating ‘bots to do the “outside” work in space. Humans may eventually be adaptable to space.

    All these difficulties are just the challenges we face as a successful species. We’ll either rise to the challenge or die, in which case, we’ll not be a successful species anymore.

    I think we’ll survive.

    Settling the solar system should keep us busy for tens of thousands of years. When it starts getting crowded here, we’ll tip toe to other stars, with asteroid colonies moving from one Oort cloud object to another. Warp drive is not necessary to expand to the stars, though it would be fun.

    GAry 7

  69. Thameron

    @Gary Ansorge

    A few people have mentioned extra-planetary emigration as a relief for Earth’s human population problem, but from an account I’ve read it really isn’t feasible for that. The scale at which it would have to take place would just be colossal in order to make any dent in the population and even then the people on Earth would still be breeding. Two continents, North and South America, were filled from a very small initial group of people. Any new world would be as well. Exporting won’t work as a population control measure. Colonization would just be a means to guarantee human survival. Right now all our eggs are in this one basket and one sufficiently massive rock or comet could make an omelet of us. The terraforming of and colonization of Venus is woefully behind schedule.

    There are just no two ways about it. Either people decide how many people there should be on the planet and institute population control or nature decides for us in a way much more likely to involve massive suffering. Personally I favor a market of child credits where each person has the right to replace themselves with one child and can sell that right on the open market to someone who wants more if they don’t want any children. This is opposed to the ‘have as many kids as you like and hope for the best’ strategy currently being employed.

  70. A friendly neighborhood astrophysicist

    Good lord people. Try to think rationally. We’re just talking about the CO_2 equivalent per person of a long-distance flight. SpaceShip 2 is only going to accelerate to ~ Mach 3, briefly. Just buy the offsets (credible ones) and enjoy the view.

  71. T_U_T

    2a) We generally don’t use steel for space craft structural material. Instead we use carbon, since it can be 10 times lighter and 10 times stronger than steel(lb for lb)

    I was talking about the combustion chamber. combustion chamber can not be made of carbon.

    3a) Easy to answer. The Boron 11 + proton fusion reaction is one BILLION times less radioactive (actually less productive of neutrons, which is the most difficult radiation to protect against) than the deuterium/tritium cycle, which is somewhat less neutron productive than your typical fission cycle.

    and boron fusion needs so much higher pressures and temperatures that normal fusion, it requires thus more hardware, more weight, and is thus unlikely to be used as a propulsion
    method.

    Don’t expect any silver bullet in the future. We are not likely be capable of building anything orders of magnitude better in the far future than we would be capable of now if we tried.

  72. Bob_In_Wales

    Re expansion into space as a solution to population growth. This was always a very silly idea – and obvious to anyone who did the numbers. A few years ago population was doubling every 25 to 30 years with a population of around 5 billion. To stabilise the population at this point would mean shipping around 450,000 people off planet – EVERY DAY, FOREVER!

    Also most of this increase was in the undeveloped world. Just how were we going to arrange (practically, politically and ethically) to round up around 450,000 mainly third world poor a day and ship them somewhere?

    Also, surely this argument is out of date. Rich and educated people have fewer children. Wikipedia tells me tonight that 42% of the world population lives in countries with sub replacement fertility rates. Charts I’ve seen over the last 20 years have shown steadily decreasing median projections for the population for 2050, 2100 etc.

    I suspect population will stabilise as a result of peoples personal choices – the evidence shows it happening. The questions are (1) will this happen before there is some major political, economic or environmental event which impacts upon population levels and (2) will the peak population reached be suportable in the long term?

  73. QuietDesperation

    Wow, somebody must haved peed in some of these poster’s Corn Flakes! What’s up with all the negativity?

    Well, there’s this whole economy thing going on. People (all of whom are not getting bailouts while those that caused the problem are) probably don’t need to hear about folks spending $200,000 on a thing that probably won’t pan out for 50 years, if ever. I don’t agree with them, but I can understand it.

    The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.

    Property rights are the fundamental core of any successful society so far to date on this world. Barring access to other civilized worlds or parallel universes, it’s what have to go with. There’s a reason property rights are all over the Bill Of Rights.

    A few people have mentioned extra-planetary emigration as a relief for Earth’s human population problem, but from an account I’ve read it really isn’t feasible for that.

    As pro-space as I am, I’ve never understood that. Are people planning on hurling whole cities into space? Some people have been reading James Blish’s “Cities In Space” as an operations manual or something. They gonna crack up the crust 2012-style and loft whole chunks of land?

  74. Gary Ansorge

    70. Thameron

    Off planet migration for the majority of earth population is not the point. The colonization of the Americas required only 1 or 2 percent of the world to migrate here. I expect the same for space colonization. Every high tech society is experiencing population leveling. It’s the poor who must bear large numbers of offspring to provide workers in an agrarian economy. If we are successful in raising the average wealth of nations to our own level, expect to see such population leveling world wide, w/o any need for mandated control.

    It takes readily available resources/energy to fuel that wealth increase. The only place I know of that has such is our extra planetary environment. Some people will migrate to space(the adventurous or merely social outcasts). Those for whom the planetary culture is satisfying will remain, just as the majority of the world stayed home, when Americas wild west was under development. They rightly concluded it was too much like work to migrate but for those who took the risk, there were rewards in abundance.

    72. T_U_T

    From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneutronic_fusion

    “There are a few fusion reactions that have no neutrons as products on any of their branches. Those with the largest cross sections are these:
    D + 3He → 4He (3.6 MeV) + p (14.7 MeV)
    D + 6Li → 2 4He + 22.4 MeV
    p + 6Li → 4He (1.7 MeV) + 3He (2.3 MeV)
    3He + 6Li → 2 4He + p + 16.9 MeV
    3He + 3He → 4He + 2 p +12.86 MeV?
    p + 7Li → 2 4He + 17.2 MeV
    p + 11B → 3 4He + 8.7 MeV

    “Despite the suggested advantages of aneutronic fusion, the vast majority of fusion research effort has gone toward D–T fusion because the technical challenges of hydrogen-boron (p–11B) fusion are so formidable. Hydrogen-boron fusion requires ion energies or temperatures almost ten times higher than those for D–T fusion. For any given densities of the reacting nuclei, the reaction rate for hydrogen boron achieves its peak rate at around 600 keV (6.6 billion degrees Celsius or 6.6 gigakelvins)[citation needed] while D–T has a peak at around 66 keV (730 million degrees Celsius).[4]”

    The boron 11 cycle does require significant temp. increases over D-T fusion however, Dr. Bussard was confident his Polywell reactor could eventually achieve the required temp/density and confinement time. Protection from the relatively low energy neutrons produced as a side reaction(mainly from the “ash” generated from 11B+p fusion. The main reaction is nearly neutron free) and x-rays is easily shielded against with a meter of water, which also masses a lot less than shielding with lead.

    The Polywell R&D group are on track with their projections. Even the US Navy seems impressed, at least enough to keep the money tap flowing(Ok, maybe “flowing” is an overstatement, but frankly, they only needed enough to show their projections were accurate and that has been done).

    I expect we’ll have some form of functional fusion w/in a half decade, though I doubt it will be the TOKAMAK design. Then the engineers and money men take over to make it economically feasible.

    The temp conversion figures between ion ev and kelvins seems a bit weird to me. Note the lack of references in the article. I’m pretty sure a competent physicist like Dr. Bussard would not have been so positive about the boron 11 cycle if his calculations indicated the required temp/pressure/containment times were unobtainable. They are however, going for the easy D-T target first.

    Gary 7
    PS: We have attained fusion TEMPS in several different approaches but it’s not just about temp., it’s also about pressure and, more importantly, containment TIME, time for the reacting fuel to actually fuse a significant percentage of the fuel and THAT’S one of the major hurdles yet to be crossed.

  75. Gary Ansorge

    73. Bob_In_Wales

    Air carriers in 2008 transported nearly 1 billion passengers world wide and it only took 75 years or so to get to that level. I expect space travel will evolve in a similar fashion.Don’t just look at todays numbers, look a century or so down the line. By the time my great-great-great grand children are around, space travel throughout the near earth region will be as easy as boarding a plane in Atlanta and flying to LA.

    Gary 7

  76. T_U_T

    As pro-space as I am, I’ve never understood that. Are people planning on hurling whole cities into space?

    The biggest design above is the “super” Orion design; at 8 million tons, it could easily be a city.[7] In interviews, the designers contemplated the large ship as a possible interstellar ark. This extreme design could be built with materials and techniques that could be obtained in 1958 or were anticipated to be available shortly after. The practical upper limit is likely to be higher with modern materials.

  77. Paul

    As a high school science and math teacher my only hope is that one of my students will strike it rich, remember his or her ol’ high school teacher, and remember what a space geek I am, and think to themselves “I’m going to give good ol’ Mr. Lake his trip into space.” If only I could give extra credit in advance.

  78. T_U_T

    I expect we’ll have some form of functional fusion w/in a half decade, though I doubt it will be the TOKAMAK design. Then the engineers and money men take over to make it economically feasible.

    While I don’t think that polywell could ever produce enough fusion to support its own weight and is thus unsuitable as a means to get to space quickly ( and, afaik every type of fusion has this kind of problem), even you agree, that fusion is reachable within a decade or few. Not hundred or thousand years. Thus no need for humans to wait to 3000.

  79. Childermass

    Re: Accidents

    I wonder if the passenger’s life insurance would cover such an accident? Or do they need to get special insurance for the trip. They need to look into that. Because this is an experimental and very much in a high risk field (space flight).

    Of course after a few years and hundreds of flights establish a record which the insurance people can rely on, that concern might go away.

    /Hoping of course that after a few years of no accidents that the people who run these flights don’t start to forget about basic safety precautions and procedures after a few flight like a certain organization called NASA did, twice.

  80. Doug

    You almost certain will generate more pollution clicking links during your lunch break over the course of your career than a thrill rider will when taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the edge of space. The only difference is that your pollution is spread out over a greater timespan.

    A lifetime vs. 15 minutes is a pretty big difference, I think, a very significant difference in many respects. Of course, we could all reduce our “carbon footprint” by suicide. I’m not advocating anything like that. Just wondering: aren’t there/shouldn’t there be limits to how much pollution people can create, and how fast it can be created, other than whether someone can afford the financial cost?

  81. Doug

    People having mammoth bonfires for their own enjoyment and entertainment is their right – if it’s their property – and so is having fun going into space if they’ve got the money.

    Suppose I light my giant bonfires of railroad ties, rubber tires, and old gym shoes, which I have legally bought and paid for, strictly for my own amusement and on my own property, right next to a property you own, say a cabin in the woods that’s been owned and loved by your family for generations. The acrid smoke makes it impossible for you to enjoy your property. Would you feel differently then?

    Are you saying there should be no regulation of what kind of gasoline cars can burn and how much pollution cars can admit, because, after all, that impinges on people’s right to buy whatever they want and do whatever they want with it? Suppose I want my car to run on a fuel that’s especially polluting? Why shouldn’t I be able to?

    As long as they are willing to take the responsibility and the consequences that’s entirely up to them.

    How does one “take responsibility” for polluting the air with substances that injure the health of people one will never meet, that spoil the environment and contribute to the death of plants and animals one will never see? Aren’t legal limits to certain behaviors the only way to deal with things like this (that economists call externalities: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality )?

    If you think society can be ordered in such a way to prevent me from burning tires when the smoke from the fire impairs the enjoyment of your property, if you think it’s okay to specify what kind of gasoline a car can burn and how much pollution it can emit, then you can also understand that it might be correct to limit private for-amusement spaceflight. It’s a matter of degree.

  82. Sara

    Space travel throughout the near earth region will be as easy as boarding a plane in Atlanta and flying to LA.

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