The Los Angeles Times noted in a September 5, 2013 piece that SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s tourist rocket ship, flew supersonic, bringing the world one more step closer to the age of space tourism, now thought to commence sometime in 2014.
“During the test, SpaceShipTwo was taken to about 46,000 feet by a carrier aircraft, and nearly one hour into the flight, it was dropped like a bomb.
“After a short free fall, pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Clint Nichols engaged the hybrid rocket motor -- powered by nitrous oxide and a rubber compound -- for 20 seconds.
“SpaceShipTwo blasted to Mach 1.43, reaching about 56,000 feet in altitude.
“The rocket plane flew solo for nearly 30 minutes, making a smooth landing in Mojave about 9:25 a.m.”
It has been a long haul since the heady days in the fall of 2004 when SpaceShipTwo’s predecessor, SpaceShipOne had won the Ansari XPrize by flying back to back suborbital missions, thus proving that a privately funded and operated spaceship was possible. But technical problems have pushed back the advent of regular space tourism flights by years.
The phenomenon is not an unfamiliar one. NASA has suffered some of the same problems in its development projects. The difference is that Virgin Galactic’s CEO Sir Richard Branson has had the fortitude to see things through and spend what it takes to make his vision a reality. All too often, when things get complicated and difficult at the space agency, Congress or the president gets a fit of Attention Deficit Disorder and yanks funding.
The dichotomy may well be a great argument for space commercialization.