Taking another step toward space travel for all, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo lit its engine Monday, breaking the sound barrier high above California’s Mojave Air and Space port with billionaire Richard Branson on hand for the event.
“Today was the most significant day in the program,” Branson told NBC News. “I think that for those people who have been good enough to stick with us for the last eight years, who signed up early on, their time to become astronauts is very soon now … We’ll soon be able to make their dreams come true.”
Branson reportedly has 500 would-be space travelers signed up for the $200,000, two-hour flight that will include six minutes of weightlessness.
Confirming the flight and milestone accomplishment, Branson blogged:
“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound. It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system – the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years – and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle’s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year).”
On board the first flight with paying passengers will be Virgin frequent fliers, allowed to trade miles for a ride in space.
[Photo credit -MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory]
The idea of space travel for all of us has been the stuff of dreams for centuries. Long before we had electricity or telephones, we looked to the stars, hoping to travel there some day. Science fiction writers fueled the fire and instilled in many of us a solid belief that some day we would travel beyond our earthly bounds. In the last half-century we have walked on the moon, built a permanent orbiting space station, shuttled space workers back and forth from Earth and more. Now, the ground floor opportunities for a space travel industry are being built, the foundation is being laid and ideas are being hatched to make a profit out of it.
Bechtel is an engineering, project management and construction company respected around the world. Founded in 1898, Bechtel has worked on over 22,000 projects in 140 countries on all seven continents of the planet. They provide infrastructure, power generation, communications and more with a work force of 53,000 people. In a “there’s no place left to go” sort of way, Bectel looks to the sky.
Planetary Resources is a new group of world leaders committed to expanding the world’s resource base so that humanity can continue to grow and prosper. The group is not comprised of world leaders like presidents, kings and dictators, but people that make things happen like Google’s CEO Larry Page, film maker James Cameron, United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley (Ret.) and Sara Seager, Ph.D., Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT. To these people, exploring the unknown and making a living off of it is familiar ground.
We first met Planetary Resources in May of last year in the article “Space Travel: Hurry Up, We Have Mining To Do” when Gadling reported Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, stating, “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.”
Now, it appears that the moon, stars and planets have aligned and something is about to happen.
In a move that has an undeniable flavor of entrepreneurship, the start-up mechanism that enables forward-thinking ideas to blossom, Bechtel and Planetary Resources are collaborating to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials.To do that, they will have to develop innovative and cost-effective robotic exploration technologies.
“As we pursue our vision to expand the resource base beyond Earth; we’re extremely excited to announce this partnership with Bechtel. They are a world leader in the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) industry,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources on the organization’s website.
It’s that “expand the resource base beyond Earth” part that should be of interest to us and shore up dreams of space travel for all some day. Venturing into space has always been an investment in the future at best, more commonly known as a space program that is a government budget item that can and has been cut.
Here, we have respected leaders of today’s world looking to the stars in a way not thought of since the gold rush period of the 1800s. Back then, because of that burning desire for gold, San Francisco grew by leaps and bounds. Roads, churches, schools and railroads were built and along the way agriculture and ranching expanded.
Mining asteroids? Could very well be the profit-centered technology enabler that ends up putting us in space.
If the whole idea sounds a little bit familiar, it might be due to 1998’s Hollywood blockbuster “Armageddon,” which had normally deep-sea oil drillers frantically trying to destroy an asteroid before it collided with Earth and wiped out civilization.
Let’s pause a moment to re-live that historic event via this video:
Armageddon had a budget of $140 million and was in international box-office success, grossing over a half $billion. Also on this hot space travel topic, our friends at Huffington Post tell us “Studies have found that around 7,500 near-Earth asteroids exist, most of which are worth between $1 billion and $25 billion each if their resources were sold on Earth.”
So there you have it: Science Fiction fuels real-world ideas and everybody makes money.
If being part of the first commercial space trip sounds like something only the ultra-wealthy might actually do, think again. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has a competition going on right now that will award a trip into space, billions not required.
Called the Claim Your Place In Space contest, KLM is giving us the chance to be in Curacao on January 1, 2014, when the first commercial space trip takes off.
First, on April 22, KLM goes to the Nevada desert to launch a special high altitude balloon that will carry cameras and GPS tracking equipment to monitor the mission. Your part in the deal: guess how high the balloon will get before it pops.
Get it right (or have the closest estimate) and win a flight for two to Curacao, stay at a luxury hotel then board the SXC Lynx spaceship for a free ride.”If you win, you win big,” says KLM on its dedicated Claim Your Place In Space website (takes a while to load but worth it). “An all-inclusive ticket to space aboard the SXC Lynx … will rocket you 103 km (64 miles) up into space at 4 G’s of thrust.”
Win the prize, worth $95,000, and “you will see the earth as you never have before and experience complete weightlessness.”
What’s daily life like on the International Space Station? The public has lots of questions, so the Canadian Space Agency, with the help of their astronaut Chris Hadfield, is giving out some answers. Hadfield is currently on the ISS and in this video shows how to clip your nails in zero gravity without them floating all over the cabin.
Hadfield is becoming an Internet sensation with his trademark bushy mustache and his clear, humorous explanations of the minutiae of space travel. He has videos about everything from operating the robotic Canadarm2 to making a sandwich in space, so check out the Canadian Space Agency’s Youtube channel for more insights into life aboard the coolest science laboratory ever made.
Last week we brought you preliminary information on a proposed mission to Mars that is being spearheaded by Dennis Tito, the American multi-millionaire who became the world’s first space-tourist back in 2001. At the time, Tito’s plans were a bit nebulous but he promised more information was coming soon. On Wednesday of this week, he shared more details, including the possibility of sending a husband and wife team on a flyby of the red planet.
Tito’s new non-profit organization, Inspiration Mars, was launched with the expressed purpose of mounting a manned mission to Earth’s neighbor in just five years time. Tito believes that we have a unique window of opportunity early in 2018 when the Earth and Mars will be aligned with one another, making the flight path relatively straightforward and simple. He is aiming to launch his currently unknown spacecraft on January 5 of that year on what is expected to be a 501-day journey.
To combat the loneliness that could come from a prolonged space voyage of this type, Tito is proposing that the crew consist of two members – a man and a woman. He went on to say that it would be preferable if they were a husband and wife team to prevent issues of incompatibility along the way. After all, the two people selected to go will be sharing small, cramped quarters for well over a year. It would make sense that they have a solid relationship and know each other well before they depart.While it would be easy to simply dismiss Tito’s plans as being too ambitious to succeed, he is taking an approach that may allow him to achieve his goals. Unlike other commercial space programs that are looking to turn their ventures into a profitable business, Tito says this is a one-shot deal. He plans to use technology that either already exists or is close to completion to build his rocket and spacecraft, and he plans to fund much of it with his own money. As the mission gets closer to becoming a reality, however, he expects to solicit sponsorships and other funding as well.
As noted above, this journey to Mars will just be a fly by. The spacecraft would pass within 100 miles of the planet before beginning the long journey back to Earth, although it wouldn’t enter orbit at all – nor would it touch down on the surface. The crew would still get one heck of a view as they pass by, however, becoming the first humans to visit an alien planet in the process.
That is about the extent of what we know on this project at the moment. Inspiration Mars isn’t expected to announce the process for selecting a crew for at least six months or more. But they plan to move ahead with their plans to select a rocket and space capsule that can accomplish the mission.
In the meantime, I’m looking for a girl who wouldn’t mind taking a honeymoon to Mars.