Thursday, 24 January 2019

Space, Man

As we write we have Spaceman from Babylon Zoo  playing in our heads (not for the faint hearted but can’t get it out of your head once heard, sorry) and guess what, you can…go into space that is.  Even if you’re not an astronaut which let’s face it, most of us aren’t…

As a human race, we have long since been fascinated with the idea of going into space…we look up at the stars at night, into the velvety blackness (if you don’t live in a city) and wonder what it’s like up there, in the deep, dark, quiet space that seems to go on and on forever…If you’re a keen student of Quantum Physics, it blows your mind even more….

Indeed the first film about space was made as far back as 1902, when Georges Melies made “Le Voyage dans La Lune”…it was influenced by HG Wells and Jules Verne and is considered the first science fiction film ever made.

Since then, our fascination with space and film has been evidenced in such films as Flash Gordon in 1936 and very famously the War of the Worlds in 1953
;with films too many to mention, such as Star Wars IV:  A New Hope in 1977, to Alien in 1979 and Apollo 13 in 1995…we are just obsessed.

So what is the reality?

Thanks (if you can call it that) to the V2 ballistic missiles used by Germany towards the end of the Second World War, launch vehicles were invented, and so the notorious “Space Race” between the USA and the Soviet Union began. These rockets were able to reach orbital velocities through their sheer power to overcome the force of gravity, which in itself is pretty mind-blowing.

On the 4th October 1957 the Soviets became the first, and they launched Sputnik 1, an artificial satellite.  Then on 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the Russian astronaut was the first person to orbit Earth.  The Americans matched this on 20th February 1962 launching John Glenn to orbit the Earth.

They then took over, and on 20
th July 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one step for man, one giant leap for mankind” onto the Moon (although some dispute this).

By the 70s, Skylab (America’s first space station) and the Apollo Soyuz Test Project were both in existence as human-crewed space projects.

In the 80s, the Space Shuttle Columbia completed 24 successful missions until its very first mission carrying a civilian (Crista McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire) into space when it exploded 73 seconds after lift-off…Shuttles were eventually retired in July 2011.

However the above shuttles allowed the completion of the International Space Station where all nationalities now work together.  It’s an enormous research laboratory in low Earth orbit and has now been visited by “Space Tourists” from 17 different nations”.

But we’re not talking about “Space Tourists”, we’re talking about “Space Tourism”.  There is now strong competitive market in developing the safest, most reliable launch systems to get people into Space…but can “Space Tourism” really be a thing in our lifetimes?

Decide for yourself…

“Space Tourism” really is as it seems, except, rather than jumping on a plane to say, Ibiza, we’ll be jumping on a spacecraft (albeit with a fully trained crew…a bit like chartering a luxury yacht really, by that we mean, you don’t need to know how to sail it necessarily, do you?  You have a crew to do that….).  There are, of course, various companies involved:  we know all about Virgin Galactic:  Richard Branson has been banging on about it for years…there is also Space X (Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla) who has vowed to take 2 tourists on a trip around the moon, and the last major player is Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame).

Let’s talk about Space X first, as they made the first big pledge.  Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon was the successful applicant.  However the mission is now held up until 2023, although Maezawa’s heart’s in the right place, because after paying £85.4million for a painting by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, he’s such an art enthusiast that he is going to take 6-8 artists with him on said mission in order to create a masterpiece for him.  However, he won’t land on the Moon itself, rather travel on a free return trajectory and return to Earth.

Did you know that in the early 2000s, the Russians actually took 7 paying civilians into Space?  But this programme was cancelled when the Americans needed the seats in order to take astronauts to the International Space Station...We cannot compare this because Virgin Galactic, Space X and Blue Origin are private companies set up with the sole purpose of taking paying clients into Space.  They are strictly for tourism purposes.

Who’s winning the race?

Until the 13th December 2018, Space X seemed to be winning the race when on 6th February 2018 Space X’s Falcon Heavy blasted off ironically carrying one of Elon Musk’s Tesla roadsters with it.  However on 13th December 2018 Virgin Galactic’s first successful (not so successful in 2014 but we won’t dwell on that) maiden flight took place.  Branson had hoped that this would have happened by 2009, but technical problems, as with the other companies, held it back.

The idea is that “SpaceShipTwo” will carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots 50 miles above Earth – the marker at which NASA has defined that you are no longer a traveller but an astronaut.  When separated from its mothership and rocket thrusters are engaged, SpaceShipTwo reached speeds of Mach 2.9 and an altitude of 51.4miles. 

But how much does it cost?

At £170,000 of course, only the wealthy can afford it, and there is currently a 700 strong waiting list of scientists and celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie (awkward lol), Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga.

This is the really interesting bit though:  Branson says he hopes within 10 years to be able to drop the price to £30,700 so maybe us mere mortals could be in with a chance…Additionally thanks to the success in 2018, Branson expects to take paying passengers within the next few months!  That’s really something!

Branson is really winning the race thus far, and regards Blue Origin, you’re looking at roughly the same cost, with their USP being that their ship, or rocket as it is, the “New Shepard” claims to have the biggest windows of all in order to take in the view and certainly big enough for you to do those famous “Space Somersaults”!

Space X?  The sum is undisclosed (but suspected to be enormous) and really when you look at it, it’s a totally different animal:  we don’t know about you, and maybe it’s because it seems so near and yet so far, but when we think of “Space Tourism" we think of Space X’s sort of mission.  We want to fly in space, we want to fly around the moon.  Not go up a certain distance, get a bit weightless, and go back down again…or are we being unfair?

Wouldn’t you agree that you’d rather wait a bit and go the whole hog?  On the other hand, based on what Branson is saying, in conclusion, it’s safe to say in our lifetimes, “Space Tourism” will not only be possible, but potentially affordable…just don’t expect to go zooming round those stars you look up at every night anytime soon.



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