If you didn’t already know, billionaire Richard Branson is designing an airline that will take people into space. Really. It’s called Virgin Galactic. Recently Ashton Kutcher became the 500th person to reserve a ticket for the first flight. For the low low price of just $200,000 per ticket, you can join him whenever Branson perfects his spaceflight process. If you think that’s expensive you need to put it in perspective. Video game designer Richard Garriott recently purchased a flight into space and actually went there, courtesy of the Russian Federal Space Agency. Cost of his ticket: $30 million. So $200,000 is pretty damn good. More on this in a minute.
I know this stuff sounds wacky, but it’s extremely exciting. Why? Because I’ve always known that government services like NASA would not be the ones to really perfect space travel. There’s just too much waste, too much bureaucracy, and not enough motivation to do the right things. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bashing NASA. NASA accomplished some wonderful things in its day. However without the Cold War to motivate NASA to do things other than occasionally crash $200 million Mars landers, NASA just isn’t going to cut it.
Who will cut it? Companies seeking profit. I always knew at some point some crazy billionaire like Branson would look up at the stars and see dollar signs. The profit motive of people like that is more likely to get normal people like you and me into space than the government ever will. This is a good thing, since it means it will get done sooner and cheaper. At least, that’s the most likely outcome; no one knows for sure.
You could laugh at the $200,000 cost of a ticket just like I did, but like any emerging technology, over time that price will get lower and lower. In my lifetime it will be possible for normal, middle class people to at least take a two hour trip into orbit around the Earth. At best, they’ll be able to visit the moon. It won’t be a NASA moon base like Newt Gingrich would have wanted. Instead it will be a Google or Boeing moonbase, complete with a McDonalds, Supercuts, Starbucks, and if they want to be a little classy, a Saks Fifth Avenue. If that turns you off, I understand, but that’s really your only option. NASA just isn’t going to do it. It’s either going to be entities like Hewlett-Packard, or nobody.
(Going to Mars would be nice, but I don’t see that as an option for normal people in my lifetime. Perhaps my grandchildren.)
So I hope that all these visionary (or crazy) billionaires and celebrities keep buying into this space travel thing. The more they do it, the more likely you and I will be able to do it someday.