Oct 312014

This sure as hell didn’t take long:

Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For

A brave test pilot is dead and another one critically injured—in the service of a millionaire boondoggle thrill ride.

It goes on in that vein for a while: space tourism is bad because it’s not *directly* space exploration. And suborbital space tourism is even worse because it doesn’t put people into orbit, and the technology and techniques required to make reliable, low-cost and quickly turn-aroundable suborbital space vehicles is wholly unrelated to actual space tourism and thus of no value to real space exploration.

And Apollo was just a brilliant piece of propaganda that didn’t actually put a man on the moon but caused the USSR to spend itself into oblivion and we shouldn’t be teaching kids to keep their eyes on the stars when we need them to keep their eyes on the dirt.

 Posted by at 9:11 pm
  • Anonymous

    Wired of course. Good example of why I don’t read that rag. Let the cowards stay home.

    • Jim R.


    • Anonymous

      I like Beyond Apollo just fine–that is actually a good read.

    • se jones

      Don’t shoot the messenger, Wired publishes an eclectic mix of authors. In general the magazine if very pro-space & technology, but sometimes they publish contrarian views. Be a big boy and read what the other side says now-and-then, it’s good for you.

  • Rick

    Dad used to say, “the meek shall inherit the earth, the rest of us will bugger off to the stars”

    Ad astra per aspera

  • Nh_flier

    It is a fundamental truth that if you fly something long enough, it is going to crash. Yes, we try to make things safe -we try very hard -but the air, and, even more so, space, are very unforgiving environments. People are going to fly, malfunctions will occur, and people will sometimes die. There’s no way around that.
    That said, this is something we do. The benefits will, if not now, then later, will surpass the risks.

  • mzungu

    I am glad that there are people that are willing to try, but space industry had always been a B2B(Bussiness-to-Business) model… and moving to a B2C(Bussiness-to-Consumer) model will expose the business to these “perceive risk” issues. Where the decision follows the heart instead of the mind…. VG and Xcor sold these tickets by enticing their buyers hearts, and they will loss by it as well.

    I expect a lot of cancellations and drop of investors in these space tourism sector coming months.

  • Anonymous

    Just my opinion and that is the only way to get into space and colonize it is by the Linux model. Back in 1992, Linus Torvalds requested assistance in developing a clone of IBM’s version of Unix called Minix. This resulted in the freeware operating system and phenomenon called Linux. In essence people from all over came together and worked on creating an operating system that was not exclusively owned by any one man.

    Now could the same be done with space exploration? I do not know. I know this, the only problem that we need to overcome in permanent habitation in the solar system is how to minimize the cost of getting into low Earth orbit. Once someone can reduce that expense to the point of an airline ticket, we will see permanent colonies envisioned by Dr. Gerard O’Neil such as L-5.

    • mzungu

      They are doing it at Copenhagen Suborbitals… I would bet on them more than I will with XCOR or VG. 🙂


    • Anonymous

      ” I know this, the only problem that we need to overcome in permanent
      habitation in the solar system is how to minimize the cost of getting
      into low Earth orbit.”

      The way to do that is employ the tools of capitalism. One only need look at the differences in efficiency between government and business to see that.

  • Guest

    I’m a huge (anonymous) fan and contributor.

    Two small points on a Saturday morning:

    Your new work on the X-37B is the best you’ve done to date and the synthesis and learning on display is masterful. Its a magnificent piece of research/analysis and I hope it brings you wider recognition and a broader audience.

    On the VG incident. I think you, as an engineer, would agree that there are better ways to characterize, flight test, and qualify an experimental propellant/oxidizer than on a full scale manned vehicle.

    I think discovery will show (and there will be discovery) that poor decision making influenced by the sunk costs of the failed original design led to taking risks that prospectively, and retrospectively, should never have been taken.

    i.e. “if this last kludge doesn’t work now now now, we’ve all wasted a decade.” Everyone’s been there (although probably with a lesser investment of time and resources)

    If we get to space, it will be with solid, progressive, incremental learning. Not with outsize assumption of negative-expected-value outcomes by engineers and allocators or resources.

    I’m any event, I’m ambivalent about chemical-rocketry being anything other than a technological dead end. Though I don’t have a candidate technology to replace it.

    I do feel the VG guys did a disservice to the less promotional Sierra Nevada and XCOR teams.

    • Anonymous

      > Your new work on the X-37B is the best you’ve done to date


      > there are better ways to characterize, flight test, and qualify an
      experimental propellant/oxidizer than on a full scale manned vehicle.

      Sure. My preference, were it up to me, would be to use flight-like propulsion systems in something like sounding rockets, and to launch them from ground level, recover, refurbish, relaunch. Once happy with that… go multistage and put flight propulsion systems at the right altitude. Once happy with *that,* I’d build unmanned SS2 clones… right aerodynamics and mass, but simplified, and launch *those* at altitude. But that’s me.

      > I’m ambivalent about chemical-rocketry being anything other than a technological dead end.

      Chemical rockets are fine for launchers. The trick is to go for reliability and rapid turnaround, not maximum performance. *In* *theory,* you should be able to reduce the cost of space launch to just the cost of expendables – which should be little more than propellant, paint and some nuts and bolts – and labor.Obviously it’ll never get that simple, but then neither will anything else. Aliens could come along and build us, free of charge, space elevators made out of UltraScrith, and we’d still find a way to add layers of needless cost.

      • Guest

        Your last sentence about the cost-plus space elevator from Lockheed Martin was brilliant. Yes, the LM Space Elevator would need to hover so that it could be repositioned between congressional districts between electoral cycles.

    • Anonymous

      There are good failures and then there are bad failures.

      1.) Good failure.

      Musk’s engine comes apart–proving engine out matters. A thruster on the Dragon capsule gets stuck–and they hammer it home. Toughness is better than beauty.
      Even though the engine that blew up on Falcon proved that fratricide need not be the case even with densely packed engines–he spread the motors out anyway.

      2.) Bad failure:

      Pretty airframe on the outside–but sticking with a bad set up instead of changing.

      • Guest


        Agree with you strongly.

        I write on behalf of everyone who works quietly and incrementally eating ramen dressed in walmart clothes so there’s enough time and resources budgeted for failure and learning.

        As opposed to these clowns who built a massive space port and a space plane and giant carrier aircraft.

        All without a useable engine.

        May the furies descend on them.

  • Donut Argh

    Wired’s freedom of speech is not worth profiteering from the deaths of brave people. Wired should not be allowed to publish. Maybe someone should start a Kickstarter to fund a legal challenge to shut Wired down and blacklist its employees.

  • Anonymous

    There were a few disqus comments that made some sense, like the individual who calls himself prime1987. A lot of name calling otherwise.

    Now I will say this–I think some of this is a backlash from folks like Simberg saying safe is not an option. Cost-plus or no, Orion and Soyuz have abort systems. NASA hasn’t been as anti alt.space as the other way around.

    By the way, I scrolled down on your War is Boring piece and loved this entry:
    ULA is going to be the real challenge here.

    Musk’s loss of the grasshopper barely made the news. He has some great luck these days it seems.


    In terms of Virgin Galactic–let me make a suggestion.

    Nix SS2.

    Instead, join Dream Chaser as another user of stratolaunch.
    Kick hybrids and all composite construction to the curb.
    Make a large suborbital plane with more paying seats and liquid fuels to be released under Stratolaunch.

    The scaled down Dream Chaser gets released on a simpler solid to achieve orbit.

    All Tiers accounted for.

    Stratolaunch gets more reasons to fly, and less down time.

    Rumor had it that the former Soviets had a second AN-225 in the works.

    I might have paid for that to be based in the USA, (American owned) for both large suborbital spaceplanes, small MAKS orbital space planes–and would use it for cargo the other times so as to amortize costs.

    That is the path that should have been followed from the start. A large top mount dedicated cargo plane of some lind can service a lot of markets, more than underslung Stratolaunch perhaps…

  • se jones

    Meanwhile back at the ranch:

    development continues in a methodical, professional way on the Airbus Defence and Space “SpacePlane”. The program survived the corporate re-branding from Astrium to “Airbus Defence and Space” (gag) which was a good sign.


    This last summer saw flight tests of the quarter scale prototype (see YouTube link below).

    The SpacePlane program’s stepwise engineering approach together with an appeal to the science and small satellite launch markets, resembles Xcor’s business model in contrast to the circus stunt VG disaster.


  • Dan Sharp

    It’s remarkable that everyone’s taking what Adam Rogers wrote so seriously. Magazine columnists fall into two camps. Those who are big enough in their own right to speak their mind and those who are, essentially, hacks, who are told what to write or given a ‘steer’ by the editor. Rogers, an ‘articles editor’ and no doubt up-and-comer, is firmly in the latter camp.
    I hate to break it to you but Wired doesn’t have an opinion either way, beyond what will stir up the most interest and/or response from readers and non-readers. Ideally non-readers.
    Someone at Wired (it was probably discussed at an editorial meeting) decided that the best way to get web hits and sell some copies would be by taking a negative stance on SpaceShipTwo. Having Rogers write a positive piece would be less shocking and would attract fewer readers. And you know what? It worked.
    Here we are all clicking on Wired – driving up their hits – and decrying views that aren’t really views, just some carefully crafted marketing. Sad that Wired chose to use SpaceShipTwo that way but hey, it’s just business for them.

    • Anonymous

      > It’s remarkable that everyone’s taking what Adam Rogers wrote so seriously.

      Actually, not that remarkable… and not that inappropriate. Assume for the moment that Rogers just crapped this out on orders without any particular belief in it on his part. But here’s the problem: people believe what they’re told. Witness the multitude of hack conspiracy theorists who vomit forth nonsense that you *know* that they know is bullcrap… and yet, they influence people who really should know better, but don’t. For example, all the anti-vaxxers sprang from the fraudulent mind of one guy who perpetrated a scientific hoax. He *new* that vaccines don’t cause autism. Millions of other people who never would have jumped to that conclusion were taken in, and now measles is making a comeback.

      So this guy doesn’t harbor any real belief about the validity of suborbital tourism. But by spewing that which is nonsensical, he might well convince a whole lot of voters and their gormless representatives that such activity needs to be regulated out of existence.

      So… yeah. It’s worth countering. Sadly.

      • Dan Sharp

        Well sure, worth countering, but it’s really a remarkable article in other ways too. I don’t imagine that the editorial conference where they decided on this column required Rogers to be quite so vitriolic about rich people. That’s probably just him. I’m not rich but I don’t really hate the rich. Rogers seems absolutely disgusted that some people have money and want to spend it how they want to spend it. Why? Who knows. And odd that Rogers should harp on about it so much.

        • Anonymous

          It is a common feature of the authoritarian that they are pissed off that other people have interests and priorities different from theirs.