For those who don’t fancy being launched into space at a few thousand miles an hour, there seems to be another option in the making to experience what it will be like leaving our planet behind for a short period of time. Check out the stunning video below, from a company called World View Enterprises.
World View’s high-altitude balloon lets Voyagers gently soar for hours on end in a comfortable, smartly-outfitted, specially designed space capsule. It won’t technically make you an astronaut, but what an experience it must be. At $75,000 per “Voyager” (i.e. paying customer), flights are planned to commence in 2016. Start putting it on those birthday wish lists!
The Netherlands usually gets mentioned in conversations about tulips, cheese, and windmills… but it seems another topic might soon join the mix. Mars One, a non-profit organization (we touched upon them briefly in our previous Mars coverage) founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, is closing its registration round for people who are interested in a one-way ticket to Mars as soon as 2023. And you bet that many are interested… within two weeks of its launch, the selection programme received more than 78,000 registrations and to date around 165,000 applications have signed up. So one might wonder, what drives these people to sign up for something they know will mean they will never see family and friends again?
Well, according to the trailer for One Way Astronaut – a documentary about those determined to throw it all away in the hopes of becoming the first human off world settlers – “you’re just never going to know what you’re going to find” while exploring the environment. To many it is a dream, born out of their childhood imagination. Curiosity killed the cat as they say, but it won’t stop these applicants from following their dreams. As the foundation puts it: “Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind.” and it would be hard to find anyone who would contest that this feat would be right up there with the moon landing, the discovery of America, and so on as an event that will go into the history books as defining for our species.
For most, 2023 might sound like a very ambitious date but then one cannot underestimate the drive and determination of humankind to explore. The Mars One foundation is not looking to develop its own technology to accomplish its mission, because the private space industry already invented what is needed to go to Mars they claim. After the first missions make sure that supplies are available and a reliable surface habitat is set up before the first crew lands, more settlers and cargo will then follow every two years. This will of course cost a heavy sum, around the $6 billion mark in fact, which Lansdorp says will be funded primarily through a reality-TV program about about the red planet’s first colonists. And just when you thought we would some day see the end of “Big Brother”…
“Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”
With the space race heating up, there are still new companies throwing their hat into the ring. Enter Paul Allen, who made his fortunes by founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, a company he remained its chief technologist of until his departure in 1983. These days he is a prolific investor and philanthropist, whose first major public interaction with the space industry was the funding of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the coveted Ansari X-Prize competition. Allen’s stamp is clearly all over the company, from it being “A Paul G. Allen Project”, to the quotes you can find back on every single one of the pages on their website, coming out of his book Idea Man. So what is this company all about?
In a nutshell, Stratolaunch Systems was founded in 2011, forming a team between Scaled Composites and Orbital, to build a derivative of SpaceShipTwo’s carrier aircraft, the one used by Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic. Based in Huntsvilla, Alabama, the company finished its second hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California earlier this year, and it is there where they will build the next iteration of WhiteKnightTwo on a much larger scale. In fact, its wingspan would be larger than a football field, making it absolutely enormous and by wingspan the largest aircraft to ever fly! It would be able to transport a multi-stage booster – official name: Pegasus II – to high altitude before releasing it, at which point the rocket will continue its journey into orbit prior to delivering its payload. The company doesn’t necessarily qualify yet for what we usually focus on, i.e. human space travel, but with Allen and Rutan at the helm nothing seems impossible. Check out the video below:
“By the end of the decade, Stratolaunch will bring airport-like operations to launch.” While no definitive schedule has been produced yet, Stratolaunch hopes to have their carrier plane ready for test flights by 2017. Not to worry though for frequent visitors to JFK or Heathrow, the plane will be far too big to use the tarmac of any normal airport. Definitely a project to follow though, so stay tuned for more on them as it becomes available.
A few weeks ago we wrote about Dennis Tito, the first paying passenger to go into space. Earlier this year, Tito announced the formation of the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a nonprofit organisation with a very specific short-term objective: sending a two-person American crew on a historic journey within 100 miles around the Red Planet and return to Earth safely. Tito has experience with this type of flyby missions from his days as a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory but this one pushes the envelope much further – no human has ever traveled to another planet.
Also interesting is that the Foundation is pushed for time to reach its objective – in 2018 both planets (Earth and Mars) will align, offering a unique orbit opportunity to travel to Mars and back in just 501 days. You can check out the announcement made earlier this year below:
As Tito says during the announcement, space is very complex and there is a lot to learn, even when the outline of the mission is simple. More on the Inspiration Mars Foundation soon hopefully, as they get closer to their objective!
Spaceport America can be found in New Mexico, United States and is the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. It opened for business in October 2011 and since then has already signed up several permanent tenants: UP Aerospace was the first, Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fleet, and just this May Elon Musk‘s SpaceX signed a three-year lease.
Plans for the spaceport can be traced back to the early 90’s but construction only started in 2006, the year Richard Branson announced that the new Virgin Galactic would make New Mexico its world headquarters. Completed in August 2012 at a total cost of $209 million, the site covers 18.000 acres (about 72 square kilometers or 28 square miles), and you can check out the facility map here.
Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners, a UK company with extensive designing airport buildings (view their stunning picture gallery here), the spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico and seen from the historic El Camino Real trail, the organic form of the terminal resembles a rise in the landscape. Foster + Partners managed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation with its design. From the low-lying form dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass acting as a buffer from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation, the natural light that enters via skylights, to a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway, this is one stunning sight to behold.
The first images (hopefully in 2014!) of space tourists lifting off from this futuristic spaceport will herald an exciting era for space travel – let the future begin!