The “historical” space program happened primarily in the 1960s and early 1970s, ending when Gene Cernan stepped back into the LEM and became the last man to depart the Moon, for decades, with no clear prospects for any return of humanity to that currently-barren orb. Since then, in many ways (and in my opinion, of course), we have retrogressed, at least as far as government space activities are concerned.
So all through the nineties, we celebrated (if that’s the right word) thirtieth anniversaries (and we have the thirtieth anniversary of that most ignominious event mentioned above coming late this year, on December 19). Now, in the twenty-first century, we will be commemorating fortieth space anniversaries.
Forty years ago today, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. He wasn’t the first man–that honor went to Yuri Gagarin, a Russian. Veteran space reporter Leonard David uses the anniversary to write a good, balanced piece on where we’ve been in space, and where we may be going.
The paradigm is shifting slowly, from space as Government Enterprise for those with the Right Stuff, to an inclusive industry that welcomes the public, not as vicarious bystanders and mere providers of the purse, but as active participants.
A personal view of [Derek] Webber [of Futron, a Bethesda-based consultancy] is that, before John Glenn is 90, ten years from now at the 50th anniversary of his Mercury capsule flight, two distinct kinds of space tourism will be happening…
First, the very rich will be following in the space boots of Glenn himself, as well as millionaire pay-per-view space travelers, Dennis Tito and soon-to-fly Mark Shuttleworth. A new kind of spaceflight will emerge too. Sub-orbital flights can provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences for public space travelers, Webber said…
…”Instead of cheering encouragement from the sands of Cocoa Beach, Florida, as they did when Friendship 7 had its flight, the American public will soon get their chance to share the experience of spaceflight. Simultaneously, they’ll create new business opportunities that will in themselves help to sustain the whole launch vehicle business for the foreseeable future,” Webber concluded.
There are some pessimists interviewed as well, but in my opinion, their pessimism is an outgrowth of their own failed experiences with government space programs.
I should add that I heard an interview with Senator Glenn on Fox this morning, in which he was asked about space tourism. It’s going to happen, he says, but not for a long time, and not as soon as some say. He continues to promulgate the myth that our space program is about science, and that his Shuttle flight a few years ago was of scientific value, and not (as it appeared to many, including me, even if it may not be reality–we’ll probably never know for sure) a political payoff for running interference for the Administration in Congressional hearings in Chinagate and other matters.
I think that his flight forty years ago was the high-water mark in his career, and his corrupt Senatorial activities (including being part of the Clinton spin team, and one of the Keating Five) a low.
Certainly, there is no sense that the Senator wants to see space tourism happen any time soon, and when it comes to making it happen, he’s not only not helped–he’s obstructed.
But that’s not necessarily surprising. After all, when just anyone can go, it takes the luster off of fellows like him.
You know, the ones with the “Right Stuff.”