Back To Space

Virgin Galactic just completed the first flight of SpaceShipTwo to space, if one considers the boundary to be 80 kilometers (it reportedly got to 82). At the Galloway Symposium last week, Jonathan McDowell made a good case that this, not the traditional Karman line of 100 km, is the right altitude. If one accepts that, it is the first flight of humans to space from American soil since the Shuttle retired over seven years ago. Here’s hoping that Blue Origin does the same thing next year (except they’re designed to get to 100 km).

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Emilee Speck’s story.

[Update a while later]

Link to the McDowell paper should be working now, sorry.

[Update a while later]

Tim Fernholz has a story up now.

[Update a few minutes later]

And here’s a story from CNN‘s Jackie Wattles.

8 thoughts on “Back To Space”

  1. Rand, can you check the link for Jonathan McDowell’s piece? It’s not working for me. My snarky side says 80 km is moving the goal posts, but I’m willing to have my opinion changed.

      1. I can’t claim to understand the math, but he does seem to make a good case that the Karman Line should be around 80 km instead of 100.

  2. It seems odd that NASA can spend so much money on space exploration without actually being sure where it is. Maybe more exploration is needed.

  3. As an aside, the only “live” coverage I could find of the flight was in the updates at Virgin Galactic’s Twitter feed.

  4. It seems to me that for tourist flights altitude is less important than time on station. I would rather spend half an hour in near space than a few minutes at ~100 km. This, rather than speed, may be the competitive advantage that could make point to point flights economically viable.

    1. From Jonathan McDowell’s paper:

      In the past few years, even lower values have been proposed. The prominent astrophysicist Alan Stern has argued (personal communication) for balloon altitudes in the 30–35 km range as being ‘space’ or ‘near space’; Stern is involved in the World View high-altitude-balloon near-space tourism venture.

      I agree with you. Floating in a balloon at that altitude is close enough to space for most people. The sky is nearly black, you can see the curvature of the Earth, and you sure as heck don’t want to open a window.

      True, you don’t get to experience weightlessness, but I think being able to relax and soak in the view would make up for it.

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