Interview series with the authors of “Into that Silent Sea,” French and Burgess, Part ten

Today in Space History (TISH) has been granted an exclusive opportunity to interview authors Francis French and Colin Burgess based on their book “Into That Silent Sea,” which TISH highly recommends for reading. This is part ten.

Archives for the complete interview series | one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | Nine | Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen

How do you see private industry, especially the so-called space tourism industry, impacting the overall space exploration initiative in the United States from now til 2020?

FF: There are experts out there who certainly know a lot more about this than we do, and I think we can only give you general personal opinions. Personally, I see space exploration and space tourism as two different threads of ad vance ment – just as military fighter jets have a very different purpose to a Boeing 747. It seems that space tourism possibilities have expanded greatly in the last decade, having gone from a subject few in the public took seriously to a goal that now seems within reach. It’s a progression with parallels to the growth of aviation, where government programs were only one part of a web of expansion which included many private efforts.

However, the costs and margins for error are so different in spaceflight, even for suborbital hops, and this means that the hurdles are so much higher for private efforts. It will be very interesting to see how the emerging space tourism industry responds to the first passenger accident – there is bound to be one – and if it can survive such a tragedy. In the meantime, I’m a strong supporter of a parallel, non-private, continued space exploration and space science effort with well-defined goals and reasonable expectations. That doesn’t always have to mean human space programs – some of the most incredible space feats ever achieved have come in recent years with Mars rovers.

CB: The advent of space tourism concerns me a little; perceived by much of the public as being little more than a joy-ride for the rich and famous, and viewing such things as the development of orbiting hotels as little more than a profit-making venture for mega-millionaires. It worries me that the political decision-makers will continue to wind down NASA, discarding people and programs, and allow private consortiums to take the initiative in future space flight – perhaps at the cost of outward exploration.

I personally believe that the whole concept of private space flight still needs to be explored in more depth, with the wish to throw people into space tempered by adequate regulations and common sense. What, for example, is in place for when that first accident occurs (as it will), potentially losing a large number of people, and possibly including children? I am also personally concerned that private space flight might also bleed vital technology that could be sold to or seized upon by nations with different agendas; what is being done to counteract this?

I may be totally wrong in my concerns, but I can see substantial problems coming up. Especially in the short-selling of NASA and hard-won technology.

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~ by tellinghistory on December 19, 2007.

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