Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Space Age is Over...Long Live the Space Age!

In one of those well-informed polemics that The Economist does so well, we are told that the ‘Space Age’ is over:

Their dream was for man to venture farther into the solar system and beyond, into interstellar space. Many people feel that these imaginings have been dashed. It is quite conceivable that 36,000km will prove the limit of human ambition. It is equally conceivable that human space flight, long the stuff of science fiction, will return to fantasy.

Just maybe. And just as maybe The Economist are wrong to be quite so sniffy about private initiative:

...the private ventures of people like Elon Musk in America and Sir Richard Branson in Britain, who hope to make human space flight commercially viable. Indeed, the enterprise of such people might do just that. But the market is uncertain. Space tourism is a luxury service that will probably not to go beyond low-Earth orbit. And ferrying satellites and other kit to the Earth's extended "technosphere" is hardly boldly going where no man has gone before.

The assumption in all this is, of course, that the conquest of space – the stretching of that final frontier – is something only possible with the resources and leadership of governments. And the statements about a “luxury service” are achingly reminiscent of the famous comments from crystal ball gazers about telephones (one per town), computers (a world market of five or six) and much else that is innovation.

For the record, Simon’s prediction is that we do indeed have a new space race, it will involve the commercial exploitation of space and it is between the western entrepreneur and the state-directed exploration of the Chinese. It’s likely that the moon’s next human visitors will be either western tourists or Chinese miners.


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