July 28, 2008
The geek in me finds this very interesting. Today is the day we finally get to see the face of commercial space travel. I heard on NPR this morning the vehicles that will take paying customers to the edge of space (suborbital - not quite into orbit) will be revealed to the public. Here's a Wired article on the story.
This endeavor is a result of the winning of the Ansari X-Prize by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan (sponsored at the time by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) with his SpaceShipOne vessel which successfully entered suborbital space twice within two weeks time. Following Rutan's success Mr. Branson of Virgin Group started a company called Virgin Galactic and commissioned Rutan to design a larger version of SpaceShipOne, named appropriately SpaceShipTwo, which will take those who can afford it for a ride into space long enough to experience weightlessness for a moment. Today we get a first look at that. (Note: Mr. Branson's company is in competition with another private space flight company, Blue Origin, started by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.) It's amazing to think that something like space travel is falling in the hands of private individuals.
I mentioned the X-Prize before. The Ansari X-Prize was the first X-prize, and we're now seeing the fruit of that novel approach at accomplishing incredible tasks. Future X-Prizes include the goal of designing an automobile that gets 100 miles a gallon on gas or equivalent energy consumption, and Google is sponsoring an X-Prize similar to the Ansari with the goal of a successful mission to the moon that lands a rover that will record 500 meters of the surface in High Definition.