The Big Think

October 6, 2004

Space Race

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 10:52 am

via Yahoo news: Nevada Millionaire Robert Bigelow has announced America’s Space Prize, a 50 million dollar prize for the first private team to develop a craft capable of attaining orbit and docking with Bigelow Aerospace’s Nautilus inflatable habitation module. This is a thrilling development. I was talking with my friend Scott a few days ago and he was bemoaning the fact that it probably wouldn’t be affordable to go into space in our lifetimes. Well Scott, check out this trend (quote from the Yahoo story):

Former astronaut and U.S. senator John Glenn’s 1998 space shuttle seat cost NASA $50 million, and private orbital passengers like Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth have paid about $20 million for jaunts to the International Space Station… At present, British millionaire Sir Richard Branson’s announcement of suborbital flights on his newly christened Virgin Galactic venture will cost around $190,000. 

So in just a few years, the price of a ticket to space has dropped by a factor of 263. Granted, that 190k cost is for a suborbital flight, not orbital (but it does include profit). Even if the rate slows down, it will be affordable to many people in a decade or so. I’ll post here what I told Scott: I predict that within 10 years an orbital flight will be possible for $500,000 and the cost of suborbital jumps will come down to $50,000 (though now that I think about it I bet those numbers will be more like $250,000 and $20,000). In twenty years (when I’m 55), I’ll bet we can go to orbit for $100,000 and suborbit for $5,000. Thirty years: orbit for $10,000 and suborbit becomes commoditized for a few hundred dollars. In thirty years I’ll only be two years older than Mike Melville is now! This is really going to happen in my lifetime. Looks like I wasn’t born too early after all.

Here’s another thought. Why not start some sort of program where families can pay a few hundred dollars to send the ashes of their loved ones up in a small vial aboard a SpaceShipOne/Virgin Galactic flight? I know if I were going on a flight I’d feel honored to carry someone with me, and it would make the family feel great.

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