Virgin Galactic Does The Space Thing Their Own Way

Keith's note: In September 2004, I was sitting in the auditorium at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in the final session of the NASA Administrator's Symposium "Risk and Exploration: Earth, Moon and the Stars". I co-chaired this event with Astronaut/NASA Chief Scientist John Grunsfeld. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe departed the event early so as to fly in and be at Mojave for the attempt at winning the XPrize. We watched a live video feed in the meeting room. There was a scary moment at one point - actual risk, as was the discussion at our event - and then success at 100 km/62 miles - landing - and then celebration.

Yesterday's flight by Virgin Galactic, albeit to a lower altitude, is a milestone of sorts - one that was only won with a lot of hard work and ultimate sacrifices by multiple employees. When one enters "space" is a matter of definitions and opinion. In 2004 it was 62 miles. Yesterday it was 51.4 miles. Whatever. You can call them and ask why they picked the easier goal to strive for.

That said, and numbers not withstanding, a lot has been invested in this. Soon, paying customers will ride close to - or (depending upon your opinion) into "space". The formal definition is somewhat arbitrary but still a matter of formal definition that can always be adjusted. OK, so who cares. From where SpaceShipTwo was poised, Earth's curvature is obvious. There is no air outside. And your blood would boil if you opened the door. Its outer space. Deal with it. NASA is no longer the only way to get there.

A few years ago I completed the Suborbital Astronaut Certification program at NASTAR. I flew several full acceleration profiles in a world class centrifuge based upon data from the original SpaceShipOne flight. I was pumped and tried to bribe the centrifuge operator for a third flight. Anyone in resonable health can do this. You just need several hundred thousand dollars to spare. That is the greater challenge.

FWIW Virgin Galactic is hyper-sensitive to media depictions of their events. Some media outlets have dumped on them relentlessly for reasons that remain obscure. Despite rather positive depictions of their efforts and lots of off-the-record chats with staff over the years about how to do media, NASAWatch was not invited to cover this event.

OK. That's your call George. Nice spaceship.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 14, 2018 12:03 AM.

Virgin Galactic Reaches "Space" was the previous entry in this blog.

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