Space travel is closer than you may think.
And while we may not be warping into the future quite yet, Virgin Galactic is making sure that we all keep an eye on the sky. The project, dismissed by some as an all-new thrill for the world’s rich, may represent a more fundamental shift in how the American nation, and perhaps the world, views aerospace.
In the forty-plus years since the midpoint of the Cold War, manned spaceflight and goals like a lunar landing no longer belong to two singular superpowers. Human spaceflight projects have been approved, over the next fifteen years, India (2016), Iran (2017), the European Union (2020), and Japan (2025). Russian and American involvement in manned spaceflight is not the race that it once was – more than 50% of Russian Space Agency’s budget goes to standard ISS maintenance, and since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program earlier this year, much of its attention has shifted to maintenance, as well. However, the lack of governmental support does not mean, these days, that manned spaceflight must stop.
Recent NASA efforts have attempted to stimulate private spaceflight, and the agency is also interested in joint commercial efforts that would serve its interests but also defray some of its costs in exchange for parts and transportation. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s pending sub-orbital spaceflights are just the first step; with one or perhaps even two eyes on the future, the company looks to provide sub-orbital space science missions and to launch science satellites into orbit, with an eventual goal of offering orbital human spaceflight.
What do you think? Is commercialization the human spaceflight model for the future?