Only “Pros From Dover” In Space
I was pleased to see this editorial in The Wall Street Journal on July 23. I have been mulling this exact issue for the past few weeks. What is the point of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic placing civilians into space? Sure, it’s an exciting adventure for the space travelers, but as the op-ed points out, space flight is not as routine as taking a commercial jet from Houston to LaGuardia. Space flight is dangerous.
Lest anyone forget, Apollo astronauts lost their lives on the launch pad early in the program and not one but two space shuttles were destroyed on NASA missions. Space flight, like clinical research, is experimental. It comes with inherent risks and like clinical research those risks ought to be less than the benefits to go forward and thrill seeking is not a reasonable benefit.
I understand that the third billionaire in space, Elon Musk, has his eyes set on Mars, but also has his feet on the ground in agreeing that these are dangerous endeavors and people will likely die before success is obtained with humans on the red planet. Only people fully informed of these risks and only those fully trained to handle the inevitable complications of space flight ought to be hopping on rockets and blasting off to other worlds.
The technology is not there for making space tourism a growth industry. It may take the first disaster to illustrate this to the google-eyed media that cannot get enough of the billionaire space race, but it is almost sure to occur. The event this brings mind is the death of Christa McAuliffe on the space shuttle in 1986 and her explaining to the press beforehand that the risk was no greater than going on a commercial jet. That wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.
I suppose there is nothing that anyone can do to slow down the new space race among those who have nothing better to do with their money than feed their own egos and the publicity machine of the American media. These guys (and notice it’s all guys) have more money than they know what to do with and so pursue this nonsense for the cameras.
There will come a day when commercial flight through space will be routine and people will be able to rocket to Europe in an hour or so. There will be no peanuts in the weightless environment I suspect, but you won’t need them for such a short flight. That being said, space flight is still in the realm of the experts and the experts are at NASA and the pilots that ought to be flying these things come from the military, in the main.
This is no more a place for civilians than the operating room was for the colonel in charge of it during the visit by Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H to Japan to fix the baby’s trachea-esophageal fistula. They were the pros from Dover operating in their golf shoes so as to save time getting to the course after the OR. Only pros need to go to space. Everyone else has plenty of work to do on Earth.