Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Return to Space

How did we end up here?

We put a guy on the moon...and now the US has no manned space capability. The three surviving space shuttles...Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis...are heading to new homes in museums.

Discovery will be ferried to the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles airport next week. She will replace the Enterprise, which has been in display there for several years (The Enterprise was a test rig that never flew under its power and has no engines...she will be moved to the USS Intrepid).

Atlantis is staying put at the Cape, and will be housed in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Endeavour will be sent to the California Science Center for the benefit of those on the west coast.

(And guess who cleverly planned a vacation and will miss Discovery being flown over the Mall).

So. Now we're reduced to hiring space on other people's rockets. Did we really win the space race?

Perhaps, right now, nobody did, but that may well change.

The earliest days of aviation began with a few adventurers. But then, it became the province of the military.

Now, an ordinary person can plan to fly halfway around the world...but the military did not do that. It was private companies that took aviation from something crazy people did to a routine matter.

Now, it's time for the same thing to happen with spaceflight. We will remember Armstrong and his fellows the way we remember Lindbergh or Earnhart.

We don't really remember William Boeing or Henri Ziegler, but they are just as important...Henri Ziegler founded Boeing's major rival Airbus.

But I hope that we *will* remember some of these names: Burt Rutan, Richard Branson, Elon Musk. These are the men who are putting their money where their mouth is and forming the companies that will take us into the era of routine, commercial space flight. Rutan's Sealed Composites and Musk's SpaceX may well be the Boeing and Airbus of space travel and Branson's Virgin Galactic is the world's first commercial space carrier.

If any of us set foot on Mars, it will not be because of pure science, as worthy a goal as that is, but because we want to go there and there are those willing to make it happen...at first for the rich, but eventually for the rest of us.