If you think that U.S. President Obama’s new initiative for space – not only for NASA, but also for the nascent private space industry – is a chimera, well, check out this article in the New York Times: A New Exit to Space Readies for Business.
The article, with tongue moving quickly from cheek to cheek, describes the milieu of what hopes to be the launching pad for the future (literally and figuratively) – Spaceport America.
For most people, the private (for-profit) space industry has lived in the shadow of NASA (or other national space agencies). Yet worldwide there are dozens of companies in one stage or another of preparing vehicles for space (or near space). Most of them are independent companies, which may be one reason few have heard of them. (Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s space project may be an exception.) Until recently most national space agencies contracted with very few, very large aerospace companies. Vested interests still see these operations as the only ‘serious’ space companies. Nevertheless, it is the independents such as Orbital Sciences, Space Adventures, and Masten Space Systems that are far more symbolic of the new spirit of entrepreneurial space exploration. (With now with the pending promise of government blessing and more importantly, finances.)
Spaceport America, according to the Times, is kind of the talisman of the private space business. (Reading between the lines, this may not be a ringing endorsement.) It’s a $198 million effort by the state of New Mexico and the anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, to build a facility for going to and from Earth orbit (or near orbit). Here’s a couple of quotes for the flavor of the NY Times article…
Few people in Truth or Consequences dismissed the spaceport plan as “crazy Buck Rogers stuff,” Mr. Whitehead recalls. Then again, this is the sleepy spa city that, in 1950, changed its name from Hot Springs because Ralph Edwards, the host of “Truth or Consequences,” promised to broadcast from the first town to adopt his radio show’s name.
And here, not far from the home of a ranch hand, is the Vertical Launch Facility, where several space vessels have been shot into the sky. One, in 2007, contained some of the cremated remains of dozens of people, including the astronaut Gordon Cooper and James Doohan, who played Scotty in “Star Trek.”
Of course, the hope is to send people, not ashes, into space. This could — could — happen as early as 2011, although Virgin Galactic says that it is concentrating first on matters of licensing and, especially, safety.
[Source: New York Times]