Recommended reading for those interested in space–a nice piece in the Washington Post today on space tourism, and its continuing progress in getting taken more seriously. Odd timing, though–the reporter is describing a conference that occurred in late June.
When Rogers first started talking in public about space tourism, his wife, Estelle, refused to come hear him speak. “I can’t stand people laughing at you,” she told him. Today, as one Federal Aviation Administration official puts it, “space tourism now passes the laugh test…”
This is important. As Arthur C. Clarke used to say when asked when some technological advance would occur, “…about five years after we stop laughing at it…”
…When Anderson talks about the future of space tourism, he points to other benefits. For example, vehicles capable of hauling sightseers into orbit could also be used for rapid, point-to-point transportation. Washington to Sydney in 45 minutes, for example. Anderson believes “space business jets” capable of flying his suborbital missions will be available in three years, an optimistic timeline, according to the people at NASA, where they put the figure at five to seven years.
Given their track record, why does or should anyone take what NASA says seriously? Not that I disagree in this particular case, but I find it irritating that reporters always feel that they have to balance anything any non-NASA person says about space with a quote (often anonymous) from “people at NASA.”
It’s particularly damaging when the most-quoted person at NASA says nonsense like the following:
Daniel S. Goldin, who recently retired as NASA administrator after nine years on the job, says that NASA’s professional space shuttle crews know there is “a 1 in 250 probability they are not coming back.” He contrasts that with a 1 in 20,000 probability flying air combat and 1 in 2 million for commercial airline passengers. “This is very serious stuff,” he says, and should be reserved for highly trained professionals. “It is not for the faint of heart. This is not Disneyland.”
Who ever claimed that it was for the “faint of heart,” Dan? This is what’s called a “straw man” argument. The level of safety is simply not an issue, and in some cases, danger actually makes the experience more appealing. As the article points out (again quoting Space Adventures’ Eric Anderson):
Anderson acknowledges that in its early days, space tourism is bound to be terrifying, uncomfortable and, yes, dangerous. But then again, so is climbing Mount Everest. Yet every year more than 100 people paying more than $50,000 each reach the summit (and, on average, three a year die trying). Tito was airsick during the two-day ride to the space station, but, once there, he reported back to Earth, “I don’t know about this adaptation that they’re talking about. I’m already adapted. I love space!” Even with the risks, proponents believe there are enough people who want space vacations to create the economies of scale needed to reduce the cost of putting stuff in orbit.
More nonsense from Dan:
Goldin ran NASA from 1992 until last month, making him its longest-serving administrator. A poor kid from the South Bronx who had 25 years with defense contractor TRW before joining NASA, Goldin managed to survive the first Bush administration, two terms of the Clinton administration and the first year of the second Bush administration by being pretty adroit. But he also doesn’t mince words. “Flying rich guys and gals in space is not space tourism,” he says.
No, Dan Goldin was never afraid to mince words, even (or especially) when he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Just one of the many reasons that his too-long tenure at NASA was disastrous. We’ll see if his replacement, Mr. Okeefe, will actually support public space travel, instead of just giving it lip service while undermining it at every opportunity.
This article is one of the better ones that I’ve seen on the subject, and given that it’s in the mainstream press, it’s a milestone.