Flights of fancy may launch the industry’s future
MOJAVE, CALIF. — The air is so clear the mountains in the distance look almost fake, as if added digitally. The desert floor is runway-flat, with a few Joshua trees popping up randomly, like lost cowboys. The dominant feature is the sky, preposterously vast, beckoning test pilots, rocketeers and would-be space travelers.
Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier near here in 1947. Neil Armstrong flew rocket planes. Tom Wolfe immortalized the Antelope Valley’s hard-drinking, sky-shattering aviation pioneers in his book “The Right Stuff.” The place is chockablock with history — and yet it’s the future that everyone’s buzzing about.
This is Part 3 of an occasional series on the future of NASA, the international space station, entrepreneurial space ventures, Mars exploration, planetary science and astronomy.
Part 1 -- NASA’s mission improbable.
Part 2 -- The skies. The limits.
To hear the dreamers tell it, this is the next Silicon Valley. The Mojave Air and Space Port is the spiritual heart of the industry that people call “New Space.”
Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn’t entirely sure what to do next.
New Space is the opposite of all that. It’s wild. It’s commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional.
Many of the New Space enterprises are still in the PowerPoint stage, with business models built around spaceships that haven’t yet gone to space. A bold attitude and good marketing aren’t enough to put a vehicle into orbit. The skeptics among the Old Space people will say to the upstarts: Where’s your rocket? How many times have you launched? Can you deliver reliably? Repeatedly? Safely? We put a man on the moon — what have you done?
Fascinating article that is well worth the read. For certain our future in space lies well above Low Earth Orbit, and it won't be NASA that gets us beyond it....