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Thursday 7 October 2004

When greed overcomes science, we all lose. [Brit]

I was extremely happy to see that the Ansari X-Prize has been won this week by Scaled Composites, led by the pioneer Burt Rutan. The craft 'Spaceship One' successfully completed two separate flights within the set two week window, reached the appropriate height, and landed safely.
I was less than happy to see that today, Scaled have effectively said that the Spaceship One craft will not be available for scientific use, and they have no plans whatsoever to allow any scientific experimentation on board their craft and it's imminent successors.
Why? Because Richard Branson's Virgin group has effectively preordered five of these craft to enable his new venture 'Virgin Galactic' to take off (excuse the pun). Once again, Britain's favourite entrepeneur has beaten others to the punch with what will undoubtedly be billed as the first ever 'affordable space tourism'.
This is really quite shit. The fact that it isn't 'space' aside (it's a sub orbital flight), I am quite gobsmacked (yet not surprised) that rather than utilise this eminently affordable (compared to say, booking time with NASA) service to ramp up the number of experiments doable in low-G conditions, the green eyed dollar powered monster has consumed all involved and dictated that science can effectively piss off whilst Virgin Galactic aims to make piles of cash.
I see Scaled's achievement as more than simply proving it is possible to go real high without government involvement. Its a chance to open up a cutting edge research environment to institutions and departments that simply cannot afford to get their experiments on board the next shuttle launch.
Access to cheap and regular flights in conditions achievable in a sub orbital craft would I assume be of huge value to the academic research communities. Instead, this fantastic opportunity to perhaps advance science significantly is being wasted because of the selfishness of greedy men.


  1. What a lot of shite.
    Zero-G time is at a minimum on these craft, what sort of experiment do you think they'd want to perform in that sort of time.
    Utter tosh.
    Back to the drawing board with you.

  2. I've been to 50,000ft and seen the curvature of the earth and black space above, but this is only the launch altitude for SS1 from White Knight.
    We've got ISS to do scientific experiments. Space Tourism is important to open up the industry.

  3. You'll notice of course that I specifically did not mention 'Zero G', but chose the more accurate 'low-G'. Zero G within the atmosphere is generally created via the infamous 'Vomit Comet'.
    If there was no call for experimentation aboard this craft, then why has the US Government and various institutions been courting Scaled/Rutan for months now - they are as conscious as any open-eyed observer that this craft can benefit science enormously.
    And yes, 50,000 feet is only the launch altitude, but it is still a sub orbital craft. I suspect that to launch SS1 for an orbital flight would be phenomenally one-way.
    Of course the ISS is there, but getting to the ISS is a long winded and hideously expensive process. Personally I think advancing the cause of science is a lot more important than filling the pockets of Virgin Galactic.

  4. Well yes and no. Science experimentation in space is happening and will continue to happen, whereas 'Space Tourism' is new ground.
    I think it's fair for Virgin to be vanguarding this as it will push ahead the Space programme by making it more commonplace for people to go higher.
    Leaving it to science, whilst virtuous in some ways, will not produce as much 'progress' relative to consumer space travel. In that respect this IS an issue of 'progress' over 'greater good'.

  5. The whole idea of this game was to get the greedy bastards to get involved in spacecrafts and make it cheap. It has now been done, its fucking fantastic. Science will get its turn, just let the supergreedy make it even cheaper first! :)

  6. They are right to go further with their own technology instead of using SpaceShipOne to do someone elses experiments. In a few years time the US government can buy a few of their new 5 seater ships and do all the low-g experiments they like - a lot cheaper than using the shuttle.
    It's much more important right now to get this industry off the ground and bring down the cost of getting into low orbit.

  7. You'll forgive me if I think the argument that it's somehow important to get this 'industry' off the ground is a crock of crap.
    What is so important about getting a few rich folk with lots of spare cash into sub orbital flight exactly? Anyone would think the planet depended on getting people to the edge of the envelope.
    And as Lurks pointed out in the pub the other day, the environmental damage of having regular solid fuel boosters going off in the upper reaches of the atmosphere could be massive.

  8. Commercial air travel used to be for the superich - but successful commercialism has turned it into something even pikeys like Shinji can afford (and now we have no standards, we have no legroom, we have Ryanair). So what's your ish with Space Tourism essentially opening up the same possibilities?
    It's vital we get our azz to Mars and stop Cohaagen's nefarious plan. And we need to deal with the UAC Alpha Labs. And stop the Psi Corps from digging up the Shadow Vessel!

  9. We already burn tons of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere just to get to another country for a holiday. Now we're going to burn exponentially more just to get the rich into sub-orbit for a few minutes. Excuse me if I don't think that's much of a worthwhile pursuit.
    I'd be rather more impressed if there was more amateur competition in working out how we do things we CAN'T do already, like how to keep someone alive in space for extended periods.