by Rick Tumlinson
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
July 10, 2004
TOWARDS A NEW AMERICAN SPACE AGE
LOS ANGELES -- The June 21 flight of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne signals the true beginning of a new American space age. As NASA tries to rcover from the loss of Columbia, a small white rocketship rose into the darkness of space above the California desert. Not quite crossing into the realm of orbital space, yet truly in space, where the stars shine in daytime and the freedom of weightlessness begins, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne made history and changed the future.
Some will try to trivialize this achievement and even question the right of private citizens to risk their lives in space. Others will snipe at the supposed waste of money in such a seemingly pointless pursuit, rolling out the tired litany of "why spend money in space when we have so many problems down here?" And most, titillated by the momentary excitement of the two minute stories about it on the evening news, will simply shunt it into their interesting image file along with the latest reality show moments and celebrity scandals that have become the background noise of our often shallow lives.
Only a few will grasp the true meaning of that tiny little white bird challenging the ever darkening sky and crossing into the realm of space. And for those few, that moment symbolizes a change of incredible import and meaning. It signifies the beginning of the hand off from the government monopolized Lewis and Clarke phase of exploration of near Earth space to private citizens who can now begin to explore and utilize space for themselves.
The seeds of this new space age were planted at the end of the last century. They included the commercial takeover of the Mir space station, which led to the flight of Dennis Tito, the first citizen to buy a ticket into space, and the founding of the $10-million X Prize that stimulated Rutan and dozens of other teams to build rocketships like SpaceShipOne. Yet, this is bigger than the X Prize. All over America there are other groups of crazy dreamers building their own rocketships, many using their own funds.
From the video game Doom's creator John Carmack in Dallas, who is also competing for the prize, to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and Paypal creator Elon Musk in Los Angeles, who are not, these children of Apollo and Star Trek are leading the way to the future.
Along with the rich are those running on sweat and sandwiches, such as X-Cor, across the street from Rutan's shop, Rocketplane in Oklahoma, or JP Aerospace in Sacramento. Others are creating the innovative technologies they will need to succeed, such as Space Dev in San Diego or Orbitec in Wisconsin.
Still others, such as Constellation Services and Orbital Recovery, are going such critical jobs as basic freight and "tow truck" functions, while Budget Suites owner Bob Bigelow is building the hotels and housing they will need in orbit. Together, they form an Alternative Space movement that is free from the narrow confines of governmen's central planning, free from the current space establishment, and free to innovate. And they are free to try a hundred different new ideas to bring down the bottom line and raise up their dreams to the level of reality. Some will fail, in fact most will fail, but that is not important. What is important is that some will succeed.
Yes, astronauts have been flying into space for over 30 years. But they were government employees, operating within a narrow and often short-term government agenda. Whether for national prestige, as when we went to the moon, or for science or advanced research, the AltSpace movement is different. Rutan and the others following him have a far different goal in mind. They want to really open the frontier to all of us.
This flight and the ones that will follow in the coming months show Americans can still dream, and we still have the right stuff to roll up our sleeves and achieve those dreams. It was about us giving ourselves permission to dream that we too, benefiting from but outside of the vast and powerful machine of government, can do incredible things. You used to have to become an astronaut or spend millions to enter space, and then you were made fun of by being labeled a mere tourist. SpaceShipOne's pilot has changed all that, and you certainly can't call him a tourist!
Think about it: The day before this flight, the door to space could only be opened with a key held by the most powerful governments on Earth. The day after - today - that door has been blown off its hinges. A new realm is opening just beyond that doorway, a place called space, the biggest and most grand frontier of all time.
The New American Space Age has just begun.