After years of arduous delays softened by innovative and aggressive PR campaigns, assuring investors and science fiction fans that passenger service into space adheres to a feasible schedule not measured on the scale of the abyss between Chicago Cubs world series trophies, the miraculous happened Thursday.
Willed by the relentless, impassioned and stubborn spirit of mogul Richard Branson and team, a Virgin Galactic spacecraft managed to solve the gravity well equation and reach low earth orbit, reports the Washington Post, a 50 mile high achievement long overdue. The feat will certainly test the resolve of individuals on the exclusive waiting list of nearly 600 space flight affectionados, who have ponied up hundreds of thousands of dollars each to reserve a spot on the world’s highest roller coaster. Allegedly, the latest wave of prospective temporary astronauts paid $250 thousand for a chance at history and immortality within their own minds.
The segmented launch featured an assist by a modified airplane to 43,000 feet, a drop, and the resounding initiation of the booster rocket which propelled the space vehicle outside of the atmosphere, at least by definition. The 50 mile mark is the magic figure in defining an aircraft, a space craft, and pilots as astronauts. Both operators of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle, were officially awarded astronaut status by the FAA, as NASA gave a icy sidelong glance to the entire operation in a clash between bureaucratic titans.
As fluctuating launch dates keep getting pushed back by Branson and associates for the official start to the commercialized space travel industry, the incessant posturing of overproduced and sleek glimmering YouTube videos armed with complex CGI graphics create a cumbersome reality for realists and those who adhere to the phrase, “Put your money where your mouth is?” As lucrative contributors and enthusiasts have contributed in upwards of $100 million to the venture, the constant bombardment of hopeful predictions by Branson to the media sphere, rivals the tenor and vibe of a half-baked vaudeville act, which may or may not feature ventriloquism, and tantalizing the audience with dreams of electric thunder and complex flying machines majestically journeying to out worlds. Unfortunately, society has a finicky short-term memory, as this old show has been tried, tested, before being unceremoniously exposed and placed into stasis for the next entrepreneur.
Interestingly enough, the fandom and support of the space junkie crowd borders on the pathological and unbridled loyalty of an emotional and spiritual connection that supersedes logic. Case in point, donors to a space tower project, a thought experiment originally dreamed up by writer Arthur C. Clarke in the novel Fountains of Paradise, raised over $100 thousand to fund the construction of a crawling machine supposedly climbing a rope to a helicopter hovering at 15,000 feet, on the popular crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. Even though the project’s founder had a glaringly fraudulent history marked by legal and financial troubles, individuals willingly and enthusiastically gave away cash to support the ultimate vision of a space elevator, constructed of carbon nano-fibers and extending into low earth orbit. Fittingly, the venture literally never got off on the ground, as the money disappeared, and investors never received promised gifts for their loyalty. Rumor has it that the crook who sparked the venture, used the money for a year long global travel spree in promoting an incredulous “Space University” of higher learning. This is the pervading mentality of hype which propels Virgin Galactic and other entities, a phenomenon that captivates the imagination and transforms the decision making part of the brain to mush. As Marvel comic characters, Star Wars and Star Trek icons are renowned as true heroes in certain demographics of millennials and generation X, the horrific side effects breed the inefficient and decadent ventures of self-driving cars, climate change activism, adult video gaming, social networks, space elevators and privatized efforts to conquer the stars.
What should not be discounted in the race to the heavens spurred by Branson and other tycoons, is the funding methods of the micr0-space programs, completely absent of tax payer money. The free market approach to solving the gravity paradigm should be applauded, but with cautious optimism. The issue in organizing and executing a full-scale planetary mission is an undertaking that unfortunately can only succeed under the administration of government, as no sensible business person would invest a half trillion dollars in a manned mission to Mars, marked by ingrained cost overruns and the staggering scope of staff required to facilitate the project. Hence the conundrum of the “damned if you do” scenario, stifles the dream of commercialized exploration of the solar system and off world mining efforts. As the Apollo missions were an aberration to the crises of NASA morphing into a self serving entity with a voracious financial appetite constructing lateral infrastructure, the Skylab and Space Shuttle programs effectively extinguished the hopes of US led human missions to the nearest planets. While China is planning a lunar expedition with the penciled in date of 2036, the world is not holding its collective breath, as the communist country endures the growing pains of perpetual surveillance and societal internecine, highlighted by a broke military.
For now, the commercialized rocket programs designed to pray on emotions and spur the wonders of the cosmos are merely glorified theme park rides lacking the prospect of developing into viable research and mission ventures which transcend the economic and cultural impact confined to a handful of corporations. The enthusiasm, funding and public relations mechanism transfixing a sect of society will always be there as everyday heroes are forced to compete with the omnipresent force presented by the intoxication addictive force of fantasy and emotion coalescing in the recalibrating of reality. Perhaps the worship of mythical legends and the ardent pursuit of glimmering future is the escape response to a world gone mad, and the space plane represents the fortitude of the human spirit to conquer extreme engineering projects in spite of the toxic environment or the pervading sordid narrative of discontent? Or quite possiblity the isolated tendencies of the digital age afflict the left side of the brain with an infusion of speculative wonderment spawning false hope? Regardless of the disjointed adherence to priorities, the next “small step for mankind” may never again invade the optics of accomplishment, an ailment that cannot be cured by a glamorous publicity stunt.
Read the Washington Post story here.