Billionaires are revolutionsing space technology. Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture comes to mind first, closely followed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos space exploration company, Blue Origin. The Amazon founder recently published a video allowing us to take part in a space tourism adventure.
A dummy, named Mannequin Skywalker (after the famed Star Wars character, Anakin) is strapped to rocket capsule’s seat. If he was able to turn his head, he would see the steppes of Texas. A roaring noise accompanies the take-off of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship, as the border between earth and sky starts to blur. For the next couple of minutes, the “blue planet“ is exactly this — a shiny, blue surface outside the window, sprinkled with marks of red and brown of the areas we live in.
After about 2.5 minutes, we hear a rumbling sound telling us that the booster is being separated from the capsule, which then is floating at a height of about 100 kilometres. It’s fairly quiet, except for a constant beeping. The rumbling sound starts again as the capsule is losing height and entering lower levels of the atmosphere again. The descend turns out to be quite turbulent, spinning the capsule. a little while the hills appear again in the background before it reaches the ground, swirling up a cloud of bronze desert dust.
Space tourism isn’t entirely new. Already in 2001, Dennis Tito was the first tourist aiming for a destination outside this planet. However, this is the first time all of us can “take part“ in such an adventure, and it’s the first ever inside video of what space tourism means and looks like. Ok, we have to admit it’s not completely representative, since the passenger is a faceless dummy instead of a person of flesh and blood. But it’s exciting nonetheless, considering that humans will be able to leave their seats and enjoy weightlessness for a few minutes.
Blue Origin have stated their first manned test flights might actually already takeoff in 2018, but of course nothing’s really cut and dried yet. Their last unmanned test flight before Mannequin Skywalker‘s trip to space was in October 2016. Some more practice could do no harm before allowing actual people on board.
Reusable Rockets Is Key
However, the average mortal will hardly board a spaceship anytime soon. Looking at Virgin Galactic, a seat will cost you around $250,000 at the beginning, according to several reports of the media. The only way to make it more affordable in the long term is reusability.
Brilliant visionaries like Musk and Bezos, of course, have noticed that already. And the key to achieve this is often reduced to just four letters, VTVL, standing for ‘vertical takeoff, vertical landing’. Boosters and capsules have to return to Earth undamaged and that’s only possible if the booster is landing vertically. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have already succeeded in implementing this kind of system.
The Greater Good
But what does the billionaires‘ sudden passion for outer space mean for life and science on Earth? First of all, it can be fun for whoever can afford it, at least in the very near future. But their engagement could significantly support the progress of science. If the VTVL spaceships further succeed and can actually contribute to lowering the cost for getting to space, more scientists could participate and help us getting a deeper insight of the world we live in. Space tourism could only be the preliminary stage to something much greater.
At the Space Symp
osium in 2016, Jeff Bezos said that he wants to “make access to space at much lower cost so that thousands of entrepreneurs can do amazing and interesting things, and take us into the next era.“
So what will the next era look like? Visionaries have different ideas. We all know how much Elon Musk would like to populate Mars, while Jeff Bezos would like to outsource some industry branches to outer space. But whatever the near and far away future will look like, we’re sure people like Musk and Bezos are going to shape it.
Watch the full Mannequin Skywalker footage below:
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