Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two Crash: A Blow To Space Tourism?

Even though it is still beyond the reach of the average working class consumers, does the recent crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two represent a blow to “affordable” space tourism? 

By: Ringo Bones 

It was supposedly a routine test flight aimed to make space tourism closer to the masses but in ended in tragedy when in October 31, 2014 a Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two space tourism craft suffered a catastrophic failure after it separated from its mother ship White Knight Two and crashed moments later into the Mojave Desert below. Even though the crash is under further investigation to determine the cause of the tragedy according to Stuart Witt CEO of Mojave Spaceport, witnesses on the ground says that the craft appeared to be in pieces before it crashed to the floor of the Mojave Desert. One pilot was killed while the co-pilot is seriously injured. Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson flew immediately to the crash site as soon as he heard the tragic news. Will the recent disaster represent a giant step back to “affordable” space tourism? 

Compared to the US government run NASA, private space travel and space tourism companies like Virgin with its Virgin Galactic space tourism program seems to be able to make viable space travel programs at a far lesser cost than government run counterparts. SpaceShip Two costs “only” 500 million US dollars to develop – a bargain compared to comparable spending made by similar NASA projects. While the Spaceship Two is slated to bring the first batch of space tourist to their “suborbital” destinations by 2015, there are 700 customers who already paid the ticket price of 250,000 US dollars already lining up for the experience including celebrities like Hollywood actor Tom Hanks and song-and-dance man Justin Beiber and also Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. 

By their very nature, our current spacecraft technology is inherently dangerous in their operation because they operate under the extremes of temperature and pressure. Like cryogenic fuels and oxidizers only tens of degrees above absolute zero fueling a rocket engine that runs at a temperature hot enough to vaporize steel. Not to mention reentry temperatures comparable to that of free-flowing magma.