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« More Inconvenient Truth | Main | No Separation Of Mosque And State »

"Beyond Wildest Dreams"

Sounds like Dr. Simonyi thinks he got his money's worth:

Among the many images burned in Simonyi’s mind from his spaceflight are the dazzling transitions between night and day in Earth orbit.

The ISS orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, giving astronauts 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours. Simonyi and the Expedition 15 crew docked at the ISS on April 9 just as the Sun set over the horizon with amazing speed, which the space tourist likened to the lighting of a modern opera during his flight.

“When they happen, the color of everything changes,” Simonyi said of sunsets in space. “In about 10 seconds it changes from brilliant white, through all the shades to essentially invisible black…that was sunset someplace.

“I did not know what I was looking at, but it was the most incredible thing,” Simonyi said.

Note that the only discussion was about the delight of the experience, not how thrilled he was to be "one of the first" to be doing this.

I was having a discussion with Michael Turner (who has a non-space-related grudge against Simonyi) over at on this subject a few days ago. He continued to insist that there is a significant "fad" component to this, and that once a few people have done it, and it's no longer a novelty, that this industry will die, or at least that there's a significant chance of that. At least that was my interpretation of what he was saying.

I think that's palpable nonsense, based on the kind of testimony provided above. That kind of word-of-mouth can't be bought. I asked him to provide me with some basis for his belief, but rather than doing so, he simply dropped out of the discussion. I still hope that he'll explain it, some time.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 24, 2007 10:52 AM
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I think that's right. It's amazing, too, how different the report of the experience is when one of the private astronauts tells it as opposed to when one of the government astronauts recounts his story.

I've had NASA astronaut friends for nearly thirty years, and never experienced the sense of excitement that Dennis Tito or Greg Olsen communicate. Rick Searfoss comes closest and he's a private astronaut, now.

Posted by Lee Valentine at April 24, 2007 11:47 AM

His grudge against Hungarian Notation is palpable nonsense too. Even in strongly typed languages, it's still helpful.

Yeah, it can be abused, but so can any other good idea.

Posted by Roger Strong at April 24, 2007 12:03 PM

Actually, many of the government astronauts have been quite eloquent as well (e.g., Michael Collins). And the Overview Effect has a lot of such recountings of the awe.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 24, 2007 12:03 PM

I'm not sure US astronauts are particularly inclined to describe their experiences with the sense of wonder that you'll find in the descriptions given by private fliers, or even Russian fliers.

Shuttle astronauts in particular don't have a lot of time to absorb the experience while they're on orbit, and I think it reduces the experience somewhat. One PS told me that it wasn't until the 2nd day of flight that he even had time to look out the window, he was so busy with his experiments (I'm sure he was exaggerating--how could you not take the opportunity even during pre- or post-sleep??).

Russians tend(ed) to fly longer missions; similar to what the tourists experience, there is much more time available to simply look out the window and let the impact of what you're seeing really sink in.

I could point you to a book of quotes and short narratives by astronauts and cosmonauts that do convey that sense of excitement, but unfortunately, such sentiments are infrequently and often poorly expressed in other fora.

Posted by Andy at April 24, 2007 12:09 PM

Most of Tito's public lecture at the Air & Space Museum a few years ago was spent describing in different ways what a complete state of joy he was in during his time in space. He loved the feeling of weightlessness and he sat by the window for countless hours watching with amazement the infinite variety in the panorama of earth as it passed below. He did say that the age lines on his faced deepened but that was because he had a big dumb grin on his face continually for the entire week.

Tito certainly took pride in being the first space tourist (I don't think he liked that term, though) but he clearly found the experience in and of itself to be well worth the ticket price regardless. My impression from reading statements from the other ISS space tourists is that they feel the same way.
- Clark

Posted by Clark at April 24, 2007 12:37 PM

in other news, there is speculation "beyond wildest dreams" going on over John Youngs statement that Ares I is facing its end:

Posted by kert at April 24, 2007 01:13 PM

He continued to insist that there is a significant "fad" component to this, and that once a few people have done it, and it's no longer a novelty, that this industry will die, or at least that there's a significant chance of that.

That's like saying sex will die out, once most people in the current generation have given it a try.

Posted by Carl Pham at April 24, 2007 02:11 PM

Well, to be fair, Carl, sex is a lot cheaper. Which, while Michael would almost certainly make that argument (based on experience in arguing with him, and futilely) it's certainly an amusing counterpoint.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 24, 2007 03:42 PM

Well, to be fair, Carl, sex is a lot cheaper.

Hmm. I conclude you're (1) still married to your first wife, (2) happily so, i.e. no mistresses, and (3) neither of you have medical history.

Posted by Carl Pham at April 24, 2007 07:28 PM

(1): check, (2): check, (3): check. And no money even for a vanity domain, to say nothing about a ride with VG.

Posted by Pete Zaitcev at April 24, 2007 09:26 PM

Well how many people rode the Concorde? There was a big rush at the start because it was cool. How is space tourism different than Supersonic commercial jet travel? Other than the obviously higher costs and inherent danger of strapping yourself in with a butt load of explosives. You could argue that standard commercial jet travel is available and therefore there is no comparable "space" trip.

I believe that the commercial space tourism market is extremely limited with people willing to spend the money and accept the risk.

Posted by Joe Schmoe at April 24, 2007 09:34 PM

Plenty of people flew concorde. The major problem that impeded takeup was that because of certain evironmentalists, the hubs that it could fly to were serverly restricted.

If you're going to take a flight from London to Atlanta, you'reYou' not going to take a concorde to NY, be forced to wait for a 2 hour layover, then hop another flight. You're going to spend the same amount of time on a subsonic and fly direct.

Posted by Adrasteia at April 25, 2007 05:50 AM

I concur with Rand that even NASA astronauts will tell you how much they enjoy earth observations, particularly those who have done EVAs. However, it is a bit different for them. They are not going on a vacation, but to work. They spend a lot of time doing things they have spent months training for. Also, the months of training integrates the team into have more of a joint experience. After the flight, they appreciate the work in space they accomplished, because they spent so much of their time preparing for that. However, you separate them, and you'll hear their take on the beauty of Earth.

As for Rand's friend, I thought space flight was somewhat a fad with the quick rise and fall of the Apollo effort. I thought after the long period of success with Shuttle, the fad was waining. However, one only needs to attend a launch (or make the effort to attend) to see that the fad is very much alive. And that's just in the US. Watch foreign visitors to various NASA centers, and they will have a greater appreciation of space flight than most Americans. If it is really a fad, there is still lots of people to make business in it very lucrative.

Posted by Leland at April 25, 2007 06:17 AM

In Asimov's classic short story "The Martian Way," he described some travelers' magnificent experiences as they did (essentially) EVAs as they traveled from Mars to Saturn--to collect ice to combat a ridiculous political movement on earth. I'm not sure if that was purely his imagination, but it sure made me want to get into space someday.

Posted by Jeff Mauldin at April 25, 2007 10:30 AM

For most people, a novel experience is not something no one has done before, it's something they have never done before.

Yes, there are some people who are only interested in new fads but they are a distinct minority. Most travel destinations become more popular with time.

Of course, NASA has always treated space travel as a fad. "We want to send a very small number of astronauts into space, then into orbit, then to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond. There's no point in trying to reduce transportation costs or develop infrastructure at any one destination because the fad won't last long enough."

So, it's logical for many NASA employees and space buffs (NASA buffs) to assume the general public feels the same way. A frequent argument says, "We're all space buffs in this office. We're prime candidates for space tourism. If we wouldn't go for this, the general public certainly won't." But my experience speaking to the public suggests just the opposite. They are not nearly as jaded as the space program insiders.

Posted by Edward Wright at April 25, 2007 12:41 PM

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