In 2004, George W. Bush shared his vision for space exploration, proposing to spend “$12 billion over the next five years.” This would have ended in 2009 and is long-since behind us. Earlier this year, the NASA Space Shuttle program concluded with the landing of Atlantis. It seems as though the ambitions of NASA and George W. Bush to colonize the moon by 2020 are out of reach.
Enter, stage right, Richard Branson.
Virgin Galactic – which, to my surprise, isn’t a household name yet – featured the first feather flight last May and is currently taking booking inquiries online. That’s right, for the mere price of $200,000 (and a $20,000 deposit), you can get a seat on the first commercial space craft.
With the space shuttle program scrapped and NASA budgets holding steady, options seem limited for space research opportunities. As it turns out, Virgin Galactic, while primarily a “tourism company,” anticipates that research experiments will provide additional revenue opportunities. In an article this weekend, Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides, stated “We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space.”
Hollywood portrays intergalactic travel and exploration as a private enterprise with scientific interests taking a back seat and second priority to profit. It seems Hollywood may have been right about this one. Personally, I’d contend the per-seat price tag limits the general public (of any country) from taking flights on Galactic. I would also argue that research projects will be a primary source of revenue for the commercial space airliner – err – spaceliner. Space travel has been a dream of mine for as along as I can remember and Virgin Galactic has made that dream a possibility. However, given an extra $200,000 in my budget, I may elect to invest in a cause more down to earth than space travel.