21 June 2004
Media - Vehicles (Good)
Real Space Commerce Has Come of Age
A triumph of ingenuity and willpower
by Sam Coniglio
By Samuel M. Coniglio, IV
Thank you Burt Rutan and Paul Allen!  SpaceShipOne’s historic flight into space is a triumph of ingenuity and willpower. At long last, true commerce can take place in the Final Frontier. Beyond just breaking the record books, the historic flight of SpaceShipOne signals a new era for space travel.  The Ansari X Prize is legitimizing the efforts of hundreds of rocket engineers and dozens of organizations.  Someday soon, a few of these groups will become the Lockheeds and Boeings of a new era. Someone has finally proven that space travel is no longer the exclusive domain of governments.  
For those of the public who have little interest in space travel, let me explain my excitement in commercial terms.  The U.S. and the world need new resources.  Third-world nations, such as China, are quickly becoming economic powerhouses with fast-growing standards of living. All of these nations need consumer goods and electricity, lots of electricity. With many more nations becoming like the United States, already the world’s largest consumer, the planet’s natural resources will run out quickly.  Our wasteful consumption is polluting the land and damaging the environment.  There has to be another way to sustain this economic growth, and yet reduce the destruction of nature and dependence on limited resources.
The solution lies in the stars.  Or more precisely, the stuff between the stars.  Unlimited electricity can be harnessed via orbiting solar arrays and be transmitted to receiver stations all over the planet.  The Sun is not going to run out of power in anyone’s lifetime.
Global transportation can revolutionized using vehicles that hop to the edge of space like Mr. Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.  We are not far from a time when you can take a flight from New York to Tokyo…in two hours.  A few years ago Fred Smith, the CEO of Federal Express, proposed investing in a supersonic aircraft to speed up global cargo shipments. The stockholders laughed at the idea. Today, we can use a rocket plane. I hope Wall Street is beginning to understand the implications of this.
Orbital factories are on the drawing board that can process materials using the near-perfect vacuum and zero gravity to manufacture computers out of diamonds, or develop molecular drugs to help fight cancer or AIDs. Weekly flights to the factory via space trucks means mass production and quick global distribution.
On the entertainment side, companies such as Shimizu Corporation and Bigelow Aerospace are designing hotels to orbit the Earth.  Imagine experiencing a sunset every ninety minutes.   Imagine a world cruise where you could fly like a bird and throw a baseball farther than any athlete.  A space tourism agency called Space Adventures has already sent two paying passengers to the International Space Station.
Where is NASA in all this?  The recently released report on President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond re-focuses NASA on what they do best: exploration.  The discoveries from the Hubble Telescope and the Mars rovers continue to amaze us and teach us more about the universe.  Like Lewis and Clark, they are the pioneers, and we are the settlers.  After thirty years of waiting, the time has come to open up shop 200 miles up.  NASA continues to blaze new trails. Now it is our turn to pave the road.

Samuel M. Coniglio, IV is the member of the Space Frontier Foundation, an organization devoted to the settlement of space via private industry.  You can email him at spaceman (at) mindspring.com. This piece originally appeared as the Op-Ed of the San Francisco Chronicle.  
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Sam Coniglio 21 June 2004
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