Making Space Happen: Private Space Ventures and the Visionaries Behind Themby Paula Berinstein
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Most Americans equate space exploration with NASA, but the general public is largely unaware that hundreds of passionate individuals and private organizations are working to allow ordinary people the opportunity to tour near space and to create permanent human settlements on Mars and other celestial bodies. Through a series of fascinating interviews, this book introduces the scientists, astronauts, engineers, and entrepreneurs behind the private space movement and offers a clear-eyed assessment of their prospects for success. The legal, ethical, and political challenges facing the exploitation of space resources are also explored, and issues such as environmental responsibility, safety, law enforcement, property rights, patents, and government policy are discussed.
“Imagine meeting a century and a half ago with John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. That's what this book is like: a visit with the entrepreneurs who will be the movers and shakers of the space frontier.” —Ben Bova
“Paula Berinstein has written a lively, very readable account of ‘colorful people tackling the same basic problem in a variety of ways.’ That problem is opening up space—both near the Earth and on the Moon and Mars—to broad-scale human activity. Berinstein does an eminently fair but also very engrossing job of presenting, often in their own words, the ideas of a cross-section of space entrepreneurs...This is a must-read book for everyone interested in space development.” —John M. Logsdon, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
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Making Space Happen
Private Space Ventures and the Visionaries Behind Them
By Paula Berinstein
Plexus Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Paula Berinstein
All rights reserved.
Space Tourism? Where'd They Come Up with an Idea Like That?
Until recently, space tourism was regarded as science fiction. However, today space tourism is not only becoming technically feasible, it's on the verge of becoming available, first to the well-heeled, and then to the middle class. But space tourism isn't an end in itself. Supporters see it as a way of building a transportation system that will help us use space-based resources, explore the inner solar system, and eventually settle the Moon and Mars. Read on to find out how this about-to-be industry has leapt off the page and into the real world.
Most people don't admit what they'd really want to do if they could take a space vacation. They'll tell you they want to see the Earth from space or do somersaults in zero gravity. The unabashed ones will tell you the truth: They want to have sex in zero gravity. The thought of floating about without friction or restriction of movement is intoxicating for many. The possibilities seem endless.
So let's talk about that first. What is sex in zero gravity really like? Is it better than sex on Earth? Everyone thinks so, but if you can believe the media, NASA, and the Russians, no one really knows. (Yeah, right. They know. You can't tell me that there's no 100-mile-high club.)
Speculation about sex in space abounds. Real accounts of it — well, try to find one. There are urban legends that circulate every few years, but they're always debunked. NASA denies having conducted sex experiments in space, as does the Russian Space Agency, except on nonhuman mammals like rats to see what happens to their reproductive systems. Which makes sense. There's really no reason to test various methods. People will be more than willing to try themselves.
Harvey Wichman, professor of psychology at Claremont College in Southern California, describes having sex in space this way (though not having gone, he doesn't know from personal experience how well this will work): "To the best of our knowledge, it hasn't happened yet. But let's start with how organisms do it in water on Earth. Very large animals usually do it as a threesome or a foursome. There is an assistant to give a push in the right place at the right time. The nice thing about water is it's quite viscous, and you can imagine that if you've got fins, you've got something to push against. When you're weightless inside a space vehicle, you have to find some mechanical way to constrain the participants. It can be worked out, but it's an interesting ergonomic problem. Sex involves very coordinated activities; making them highly rhythmic is not as easy as one would think. The people who go to space are going to want to do that. If you don't design the facility to make sex easy, they're going to be disappointed."
Some suggestions for sex aids in space include four-legged shorts, a big "sock" that contains the partners, and beds mounted on walls equipped with Velcro-attached sheets and blankets.
If it turns out that sex in zero gravity is as good as everyone thinks, there's the impetus for a space tourism industry right there. Taking tourists to space will not only be economically feasible, but wildly profitable. Everything based on sex is. But no one's talking about it, and despite valiant efforts, no one's yet figured out a way to get from point A (Earth) to point B (a thriving space tourism industry).
It's little known, but there's actually a space tourism industry on Earth already. You can ride in a plane that ascends and descends in such a way that you experience twenty or thirty seconds of zero gravity at a go. Or you can take a jaunt on a MiG 25 Russian fighter plane to 85,000 feet — the edge of space — and see the curve of the Earth. (Space traveler Dennis Tito took one before deciding to purchase a ticket to the Mir, a trip that didn't materialize; however, Tito's trip to Space StationAlpha did.) However, both of these experiences require time and trouble to prepare for because they're only available in Russia.
But while these types of rides hint at what it's like to be in space, that's all they really do. You can't orbit the Earth, you can't experience sustained weightlessness, and you can't visit the Moon or other solar system bodies. A lot of the reason has to do with international politics.
What Is Space Tourism?
What, besides sex, could you do in space? Patrick Collins, a British economist working on space tourism in Japan, describes some of the possibilities:
Look at the Earth. Author Frank White has published a book of astronaut and cosmonaut interviews called The Overview Effect in which space travelers tell of the transforming experience of viewing the Earth from space. Many consider it a spiritual experience that changed their life. They also report that observing the Earth and its features does not grow stale. You can see cities, topographical landmarks, weather, and even fires.
Observe the sky. Undistorted by the atmosphere, the cosmos is stunningly beautiful and easier to see than from anywhere on Earth. And thepictures you can take!
Engage in low-gravity sports. Just imagine flying, let alone gymnastics where you can't hurt yourself by falling and ball games where there's no resistance and the ball can travel almost indefinitely.
Observe low-gravity phenomena. Collins tantalizes you with his list of things to watch: liquids, electrical and magnetic effects, ballistics, animal and plant behavior. He fails to mention watching other people, which also has got to be entertaining.
Swim in low gravity or artificial gravity. If you swim in low gravity, you could also propel yourself out of the water and fly!
Walk in space! This one has to be a show-stopper. It will have to be safe, but imagine what it would be like to walk on top of your hotel or with absolutely nothing surrounding you at all.
Hang out in low-gravity gardens. Growth is likely to be lush, and giant plants will abound.
Immerse yourself in simulated exotic worlds (something you can also do on Earth, though without the reduced gravity).
Harvey Wichman expands on Collins' insights. "When you talk to astronauts, they speak of looking back on our Earth as an experience that changes your life. We do not do that and come back the same person. It is a very spiritual kind of thing, like standing on top of a mountain — a little bit of an epiphany. Astronauts also tell you that looking at the star field from outside of our atmosphere is an awesome experience. Just standing and looking at all the stars shining brightly in the middle of daylight is hard to comprehend. We can't take pictures of this view because cameras don't see the stars. They adjust to the bright sun and miss the stars. The only thing you can really do is paint pictures of what it is like up there, and that too is a wonderful experience. So space vehicles give you two vistas: one of the star field, and the other of Earth."
Even though science fiction writers have accepted space travel and tourism as a given for over a hundred years, it wasn't until the 1950s that someone made a genuine commercial move in that direction. New York's Hayden Planetarium announced that they would accept reservations for trips to the Moon. At least 100,000 people took them up on their offer. In the late 1960s, people got so excited about Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that Pan American Airlines emulated the Hayden's example. They accepted tens of thousands of reservations to fly to the Moon.
Then in the mid-1980s, the serious work began. There was a travel company called Society Expeditions founded by a man named T.C. Schwartz. Schwartz, a specialist in adventure travel, and the first to take tourists to Antarctica (a plane still lies on the sea bottom there after the ice gave way — the tourists were all rescued), decided that he should be in the space tourism business. He hired Alaskan-born Colette Bevis to direct a space travel project, and together they coined the term "space tourism."
Schwartz and Bevis began with a market study to see what the economic and technical prospects for a real space tourism industry would be. Part of the purpose of the study was to promote the concept of space tourism. At the same time, they spoke to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. military, the office of President Ronald Reagan, and congressional staff asking for legislation supporting the development of space commerce.
Schwartz and Bevis were astonished when the announcement of their study at the Press Club in Washington, D.C. made front-page news internationally. Yes, they had signed up people, but to study the market, not to take actual reservations, since there was no vehicle or infrastructure to support such trips. Within the first three months after their announcement, 225 people signed up for the study. They did have to contribute some money — $7,000 to be precise. Five thousand dollars (refundable) of that went into an escrow account with a U.S. bank, with $2,000 and the interest it accrued to be used to operate the study. Participants could withdraw their $5,000 at any time. Participation included priorities for access to the first actual trips, should they occur. Some people took out second mortgages so they could participate. Quite a few of the subjects were internationally famous and/or worked for Fortune 500 companies.
At the same time, Schwartz and Bevis notified their participants that they were seeking ways to create spacecraft for tourism purposes. They put together the first private, that is, nonaerospace company consulting team, which included many people still involved in space tourism: Maxwell Hunter, a rocket scientist who worked across from Wernher von Braun on all the great rockets, George Mueller, a past NASA administrator and current design lead for the entrepreneurial Kistler Aerospace, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Byron Lichtenberg. The company was Pacific American Launch Systems, and the vehicle was the Phoenix (see page 39). Pacific American was to provide Society Expeditions with launch services over five years starting in 1992. The service would be a twelve-hour flight in polar orbit for twenty passengers. The vehicle would take off and land vertically.
The first possibility they looked at was a "box" that fit into the space shuttle cargo bay and would carry passengers. Eventually they dropped the idea because it was too difficult to eject in case of emergency. (This idea was later developed by Robert Citron and reborn as SpaceHab. SpaceHab built the module on spec, then persuaded NASA to use it — not your normal business practice. The company now makes annual revenues of close to $100 million.) Then they put out a call for proposals to nonmainstream aerospace companies (not the Lockheed Martins and the Boeings). They selected a design from entrepreneur Gary Hudson — the ill-fated Phoenix. After another press conference, Schwartz and Bevis heard from people in twenty-two countries who wanted to supply launch pads and develop ships. Bevis and Schwartz were as surprised as everyone else when funding began to appear to build the craft and rocket engineers began knocking on their door. They published the results of their wildly successful study.
Then Challenger blew up. (The space shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986, killing all seven people aboard.) Bevis spent two intense weeks doing press interviews in support of NASA, stating that all ventures carry risk. She and her sixty-person team worked around the clock to keep the concept of private space travel alive. Who knows what would have happened if they hadn't been contacted by their military liaison, General Abramson, who told them they had to stop further development? The U.S. was just not set up for private spacecraft to be launched in the way that private airliners are. If the USSR or another power saw such craft on their radar screens, they might assume hostile intentions, and a war could start. And so the space tourism industry ground to a screeching halt.
But in the late 1990s, following the breakup of the USSR and its Eastern European bloc, worries about nuclear war diminished and things started to pick up steam again. Other U.S. companies began to follow Society Expeditions' model of taking reservations and putting deposits into escrow accounts. More than that, with the new access to Russian space technology, they were able to offer real space experiences, like zero gravity and edge-of-space flights on which people could experience weightlessness for a few seconds at a time (the former) and see the blackness of space and the curve of the Earth (the latter) (see page 114 — you can take one of these flights today!).
Today space tourism consists of these thrill rides and an earthly industry based on themed rides and simulations, visits to NASA facilities, and attendance at space museums, camps, and fairs. Nonastronaut and mission specialist space passengers have been few: a U.S. Senator (Jake Garn) and Congressman (Bill Nelson); a Japanese journalist; and a British chemist. Wealthy California businessman Dennis Tito makes the fifth (he would have visited the Russian space station Mir, but it was deorbited before he could get there). An industry it isn't. Much work is being done to help it become one, from market studies to development of vehicles to design of space hotels ... as you will see.CHAPTER 2
Tom Rogers: Moving Space Tourism From Page Zero To Page One
Tom Rogers has seen it all, from before travel agent T.C. Schwartz's first effort to get space tourism going, to NASA's first official study on the subject in the late nineties, to civilian Dennis Tito's vigorous attempts to fly into space. During Rogers' watch, the giggle factor associated with space tourism has plagued him and other advocates less and less. It's been an excruciatingly slow process, but the times, they finally are a-changing.
The bulk of this interview was conducted in Las Vegas. Rogers and other space tourism experts were meeting secretly with Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace to help "Mr. B." brainstorm about possible directions for his company. I tried to get into the meeting but was politely rebuffed, so Rogers and I talked comfortably in one of Bigelow's hotels on a bright post-rainy day.
Whenever the subject of space tourism arises, everyone says, "Oh, you must talk to Tom Rogers." Indeed, Tom Rogers is the granddaddy of space tourism in the United States. A physicist and communications engineer who's been associated with space, government, and government contracting since the early 1950s, Rogers is chief scientist of the Space Transportation Association (STA), a staid (but getting less so) organization whose purpose is to represent the interests of those engaged in developing, building, and operating space transportation vehicles and systems. Its board of directors is full of names of retired military officers and representatives of major aerospace companies; there are also a couple of space entrepreneurs. But it is the Space Travel and Tourism Division (ST and TD) of the STA that is Rogers' pride and joy, and that organization is governed and advised by not only the established space industry but also players in the travel and tourism industry, small space and rocket entrepreneurs, exastronauts, and financial people. In other words, the ST and TD is a bit radical, and Rogers likes it that way.
What Rogers is particularly proud of is a joint NASA-STA study conducted in 1997 and 1998 on the prospects for a space tourism industry and recommendations to speed its creation and growth. This historic joint venture marked the first time that NASA officially showed interest in fostering space tourism, and indeed, in not acting threatened by the idea. The study (see the "What the NASA/Space Transportation Association Space Tourism Study Found" sidebar) concluded that yes, there is a market for a large space tourism business and that we should, in essence, go for it. With uncharacteristic fervor, the study's government and nongovernment authors concluded the executive summary of part one with the words, "carpe diem" ("seize the day").
Excerpted from Making Space Happen by Paula Berinstein. Copyright © 2002 Paula Berinstein. Excerpted by permission of Plexus Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Paula Berinstein is an avid amateur astronomer whose articles have appeared in Odyssey magazine. She is the author of Alternative Energy, Finding Statistics Online, and The Statistical Handbook on Technology. She lives in Los Angeles.
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It has been evident for a long time that a new approach to space flight is needed. But what is that new approach, and who are the people who are going to put it together? The answers to those questions remain elusive. Paula Berenstein's book "Making Space Happen" does not answer those questions -- but it is a good start. She spent three years researching the topic, interviewing many of the space entrepreneurs working to find that new approach and bring it to market. Each of its 20 chapters profiles an individual, or team of individuals, working on one aspect of the problem: space law, insurance, human responses to zero-gravity, etc. Those chapters include generous portions of the interview subjects' comments -- all cogent, some remarkably candid. At the end of each chapter, Ms. Berinstein presents her own views. While she is generally in favor of these innovative approaches to space flight, she is often skeptical about details. Four appendices go into greater detail about space tourism market issues, market surveys, regulatory issues, and propulsion. A bibliography, a glossary, a biographical sketch of the author, and a thorough index round out the well-illustrated book. "Making Space Happen" is a good read and a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in what is going to be happening in space exploration during the next decade.