Friday, February 29, 2008

Post College

And now for my third and final installment of Bore You with my Personal History! With your host, Joe Space Tourist!

Okay, that was cheesy. I admit it. I apologize, and it will never happen again. today.

Anywho, when we left off, I was in the highly ironic position of being unemployed because I had graduated from the university. As it turns out, it wasn't exactly the season to be looking for jobs. I started out by applying for positions at the University itself, since I had had a student job there and I had a lot of connections. That didn't pan out though; overall, I must have applied for 20 jobs there, and only got one interview. That interview turned out to be for a job for which I was not very qualified, because the posted job description wasn't detailed enough for me to know that it was only barely in my field.

So I started widening my search, and applying for jobs at other local companies (I really enjoy this area of the country, and I have no intention to ever live more than 500 miles away from my current location). A month passed. And two. I was starting to get really worried by the third month. I had forced myself through this entire process to apply for at least one job every weekday. By this point, I had only gotten one other interview (in which I thought I did well, but I didn't get the job) my bank account was distressingly depleted, and I had started looking seriously through pizza delivery wanted ads. Then there was a spark of hope! I had a friend who worked at a local plasma bank (and for those of you who don't know, plasma is the liquid part of the blood between the blood cells). They had an opening for a phlebotomist (someone who draws blood from people), and if I submitted an application, she could probably get them to hire and train me. Me? A phlebotomist? Well, it was marginally better than pizza delivery. I filled out the application, and a couple of weeks passed without hearing from them, so I basically gave up on that too.

I had one other possibility short of delivering pizzas; there is a large company in my area that has a reputation for hiring lots of people in my field, but the jobs are usually despised those who have them, and they try to move up the latter or get out as soon as they can. Two of my former colleagues at the University had once worked there, and both had warned me off that company. But it was my only hope left if I wanted to pay the rent, so I went ahead and applied. They actually had me apply through a temp agency, which wasn't exactly a good sign, but I was determined to try, so I did. Well, it worked, and I got an interview! I put on my best (and only) suit, and walked in for the interview.

My interviewers were more than a half hour late. They were a large, unfriendly-looking man and a not-quite-as large, but even-more-unfriendly-looking woman. It was less of an interview and more of an oral exam; they grilled me with questions on every aspect of my field, and I stammered and stuttered through them. It was a disaster. There was one question in particular that they just wouldn't drop. I didn't know the answer, even though they kept dropping hints, but after what must have been ten minutes, I still couldn't figure it out. I left that interview with the intention of perusing the pizza delivery want ads and filling out some applications the next day. But first, I needed to go home, play a video game, and unwind.

Not an hour later, my video game playing was interrupted by a phone call. I had gotten the job! I was saved! I mean sure, hindsight is 20/20, and I should have gotten the hint by the fact that they kept telling me what I needed to wear to work and where the best places were to eat were between the interview questions, but still!

Three days later, I got a call from the plasma bank. They wanted to hire me as a phlebotomist. I politely declined and hung up the phone. Not that it wouldn't have been an interesting experience.

My job turned out much, much better than I had feared. It turns out that most of the rumors and warnings that I had heard concerning this company came from people who worked in a completely different department from the one in which I was hired to work. Things here are a lot better! The people I work with are really great, including the two people who had interviewed me. I hope that if they ever read this, they can forgive me for my large, unfriendly comments.

However, I wasn't out of the woods yet. Shortly after I was hired, my roommate told me he was moving to another state. My bank account was still suffering from the depletion due to my being unemployed for three months. I couldn't pay for my apartment without a roommate, so I needed to find one soon. And I still hadn't saved a penny toward my trip to space.

But I'm going to stop here, and that means you get to read about my personal history at least one more time before I make it up to the present day.

I apologize for that.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SpaceX Completes Merlin 1C Testing

SpaceX, a possible contender to transport astronauts to the International Space Station after the retirement of the space shuttle, has announced that they have completed qualification testing on their Merlin rocket engine. To explain to you what this means, I'll go a little bit into SpaceX's history and future plans. They were one of the next companies on my list anyway.

Despite the fact that SpaceX's services seem likely to be purchased by government organizations rather than space tourism interests, the technologies it is developing (at the very least) could be quite useful to the space tourism industry. It was founded in 2001 by Elon Musk, whose more interesting accomplishments have included the co-founding of PayPal, and he is currently the chairman of Tesla Motors. The goal of SpaceX seems to be to make satellite launch, and eventually the launch of manned spacecraft, much less expensive than it has been. One of the ways that they are doing this is to operate with much fewer personnel than most other space programs; they had 400 employees as of November, and they've already made two test launches.

SpaceX launches its rockets from the Martial Islands with an on-site crew of a mere 25 people. Their first rocket, called the Falcon 1, is a two-stage rocket with a single engine on each stage. The first stage has a Merlin engine, and the second a Kestrel, both of which are low-cost engines designed by SpaceX. The rocket is designed to take smaller satellites into low Earth orbit. They first tested this rocket in March 25, 2006 after four months of weather- and technology-related delays. The flight lasted 29 seconds, consisted of the first stage engine lighting itself on fire, and was topped off by a spectacular dive into the ocean. They traced the cause of the failure to a corroded nut on the fuel tank.

So do you remember that Far Side comic where a worker at the airport finds a nut on the runway, and a plane falls apart in mid-air? Yeah, that happened here.

They tried again a year later, on March 21, 2007, this time with a simulated payload and shiny new stainless steel nuts. They had a couple of aborts during the two days before launch; one was at T-1:02, and one was just a half of a second before the engines would have fired. This is actually fairly impressive; they have set up a system in which they are able to abort mere seconds before launch and quickly return to a configuration where they can try again if the cause of the abort is minor (which it was; the fuel was a tad too cold). When they launched, just an hour after the second abort, the rocket performed very well. It made it to space, but was aborted just before it could reach orbit due to control issues caused by the sloshing back and fourth of the fuel.

SpaceX has since found and eliminated the cause of the sloshing (it was started by unexpected movement caused by first stage separation), and they plan on launching a third Falcon 1 this spring. The third launch is actually a paid satellite launch for the US Navy, which is where this Merlin qualification becomes important. The completed qualification testing has done a couple things; it verified the final design for the Merlin 1C so that SpaceX can begin mass production of the engines. It has cleared the way for the next stage of testing for use in the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. And finally, it comprised the last requirement necessary for paid satellite launch operations. This springs launch is likely to be played live on the web as the previous two were, so I'll post the details of when and where it will be when I get them.

SpaceX has some ambitious future plans. By the end of this year, they plan on delivering the first Falcon 9 rocket to Cape Canaveral. Falcon 9 will facilitate the launch of much more massive payloads into orbit. Its first stage will contain 9 Merlin rockets, and the second stage will contain a single Merlin rocket. Beyond that, SpaceX is designing the Merlin 9 Heavy, which will be a Merlin 9 modified to launch with two boosters, each containing 9 more Merlin rockets, for a total of 27. That is a lot of launching power!

Even more exciting are their designs for a manned spacecraft called The Dragon. The Dragon will be a mercury-like capsule that will be able to hold 7 astronauts, or can be reconfigured for cargo transport. SpaceX intends to use this capsule to sell services to NASA to transport crew and supplies to the International Space Station when the space shuttle is retired.

And that's about it! My initial assumptions about this company seem to be flawed; they plan to sell their services to anyone, not just governments, which could potentially open their efforts up directly to space tourism. Some very exciting possibilities are in the works for this company. And they have already made a mockup of their Dragon capsule. I'll leave you with a picture of its very cool logo:

Credit: SpaceX

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Monday, February 25, 2008

Space Adventures LTD

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a few days; I had this weird cold that hasn't been bad enough to keep me from working, but has been just annoying enough to keep me from doing much else. We still seem to be short on any interesting space tourism news, so I'll profile the next company on my list, Space Adventures Ltd.

Space Adventures is currently the only space tourism company actively getting tourists into space. It was founded in 1998 with the express goal of facilitating commercial human space travel. They accomplished that goal in 2001 when, in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, they sent Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, to the International Space Station.

These initial space flights cost $20,000,000, and consisted of six months of cosmonaut training, followed by launch on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft (usually along with a NASA astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut), topped off with a six-day stay on board the International Space Station. To date, there have been five of these space tourists, and two more are expected this year.

The price for one of these space flights has now risen to $30-40,000,000. However, they have recently added a spacewalk option to their list of services. For about an extra $15,000,000 and an extra month of training, tourists will be able to go on a 1.5 hour spacewalk and spend an extra two days aboard the station.

Those are not the only services they currently offer. Space Adventures also offers zero-gravity parabolic plane flights for about $5500, or $8000 if you want to go with an astronaut. Also, they will take you through cosmonaut training for anywhere between $8000-$60,000 depending on how in-depth you want the training to be.

Space Adventures also has some huge future plans. They are currently in the process of designing and creating a sub-orbital spacecraft of their own called the Explorer. They plan on offering sub-orbital flights on the Explorer from spaceports currently in the works in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. The flights are planned to cost a mere $102,000, the current lowest announced price for spaceflight by any company.

Along with their suborbital flights, Space Adventures is currently planning a circumlunar flight, tentatively called Deep Space Explorations Alpha. The announced date of this flight is 2009, although that date was announced a couple of years ago, and there has been little specific news on these plans since. This flight is planned to take two tourists on a journey around the far side of the moon and back to Earth. The two available seats are on sale for $100,000,000 each. So far, there haven't been any announced takers.

So that's about it! As of now, Space Adventures is definitely the most successful space tourism company out there. I look forward to seeing what the future holds, and whether their plans pan out.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wasting my Vote

Okay, time to take another short break from all this space stuff to get something off my chest. This has been bugging the hell out of me for the past seven years. In the year 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader.

There, I said it.

Now, to anyone out there who wants to blame me for the Bush administration and all of the terrible results of its actions, well, you know where you can shove it. To all of the TV and radio talk show hosts who feel the same way, you can shove it in the same place.

I voted for Ralph Nader because, of any of the three candidates, he was by far the most aligned with my beliefs and my point of view. I was not throwing away my vote. I was voting for what I believed in. In fact, the way I looked at it, I was not only voting for Ralph Nader, but I was voting for the green party as well. For a party to be eligible for public campaign funding, their candidate must get 5% of the previous vote. I believe that if the 2000 election had not been so close, the Green Party would have achieved that, and we might have had some more interesting choices come 2004. I am not a member of the Democratic or Republican parties, and I don't always vote for one or the other, because they have not earned it. Sure, I may hold some values in common with one, and other values in common with the other, but as institutions, they have become stuffy deceptive power-hoarding machines that will say or do anything to maintain their strangle-hold on the People of the United States, whether in competition with eachother or with other points of view. For them, it's no longer about what ideas are best suited to help the People of the United States. Where has the "pursuit of happiness" gone? No, instead, it's about saying and doing anything to convince people that they're right and everyone else is wrong, including telling voters who follow their minds and their hearts that they're "wasting their vote" or that they're "voting for a spoiler".

I'm not easily insulted, but one of the easiest ways to accomplish that is to tell me that I'm "wasting my vote". How dare they.

However, there are alternatives to our current way of doing things, which is possibly broken and probably corrupt. I'd like to take a moment to go over three.

The first alternative is something that is commonly called "Instant Runoff Voting". The simplest form of this involves voting for two candidates instead of one: a first choice and a second choice. The first choice votes are counted, and then whoever didn't vote for one of the top two get their second choice votes counted. This way, you can vote for who you want as your first choice, and still not be accused of "wasting your vote", because you can vote for one of the more popular candidates as your second choice. It is a good, proven system which is currently being used for elections in smaller communities throughout the United States. However, I doubt that it will ever be taken seriously nationwide, simply because the two major parties will see it as a threat to their dominance, and will never let it get anywhere. That's the problem with having only two major parties.

The second alternative is real campaign finance and earmarking reforms. Much of the divisiveness and power-mongering of our politics comes from the fact that there is too much money and greed operating at its core. However, these ideas suffer from the same problems as option one: the powers that be will never take it seriously, lest they cease to be the powers that be.

Har har, I made a little literary flourish right there. Did you see that?

The third alternative is if someone is elected to a high office who can change the culture of our federal politics. This is the more difficult option in my opinion, because even if the culture is changed to be more cooperative, less about power and money, and more about helping the People, who's to say that it won't slide back down to its current, horrid state of affairs? But nonetheless, this is where my hopes reside. I don't know if someone like Barack Obama could make this sort of difference (or even if he truly intends to), but the fact remains that he's the only one who is even suggesting this sorely needed course of action.

And for that, I would be proud to waste my vote on him any time.

EDIT: Oh, and by the way, for those of you who think that Obama is a Muslim from Kenya (and I've met a couple of people lately who believe that), those are outright lies. His father was, but Barack didn't have much connection with his father past early childhood. And for the record, being from another country disqualifies you for the presidency. It's in the constitution. Read it.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Friday, February 15, 2008

Even More Space Tourism Companies (Continued)

I'm sorry I didn't get the rest of these up as quickly as I had promised! I've been busy with some projects in the last couple days. But fear not! Here's the rest of my list, as promised.

Space Access
Space Access is yet another company that is determined to be the first to take you into space. This seems unlikely, since their target date for the first launches is 2011, but that shouldn't keep them from competing for your business when they do launch. They are designing their vehicle to be sort of a hypersonic airliner instead of a conventional rocket, using ramjet technology. They plan to use this craft initially for suborbital flights, but they're planning to begin orbital flights in 2014. They plan on eventually having eight suborbital vehicles, which will perform 15 flights per day; a pretty ambitious plan! They are developing their craft on Key Largo, Florida, and offer a vacation package that involves a visit to their development facility.

Sprague Astronautics
Not much news has come from Sprague Astronautics recently, but basically, they carry an emphasis on luxury space travel. Their spacecraft, called Altairis, is being designed in Temecula, California, and is said to have a solid basis in previous conventional rocket launch designs. Their long-term plans include three-day orbital spaceflight, and eventually lunar expeditions. They plan to make their first test flights this year, however, specific operational details on this company are sparse.

Space Island Group
The Space Island Group has a unique plan to build a massive space complex using existing NASA technologies. They will use the Space Shuttle's external fuel tank design to launch people and supplies into space. However, they will not send those tanks to burn up in the atmosphere as NASA does today. Instead, they will use those tanks as one of the primary components in their planned space complex. Their first facility is planned to be constructed of seven of these tanks, and will house up to 200 people. Future facilities will be created using twelve or more of these tanks, will house up to 500 people, and will spin to create artificial gravity equal to 1/3 of Earth's. They're still in the development stage, and they say plans may change if they find a better way of constructing space facilities, but their plans are ambitious, and from what I can tell, entirely feasible.

The Spacefleet Project
Founded in 2004, The Spacefleet Project is a British company currently designing the SF-01, a spacecraft capable of taking ten people to upper sub-orbit. By that, I'm referring to the fact that most suborbital tourism craft in the works will take passengers to just above the 100km border of space and provide about five minutes of spaceflight. This craft will take people to about 340km and provide a greater duration of spaceflight. It will be a single-stage nearly-vertical takeoff, horizontal re-entry craft that will employ a heat shield upon re-entry. Development of this craft is expected to take three years.
Proposed sub-orbital flights: €120,000

Starchaser is another British company entering the space tourism market. They're currently designing a craft called Thunderstar that will be able to take three people to sub-orbit, and another 8-person craft that will eventually have orbital capabilities. The reusable craft are expected to be able to fly once per week. They are involved in researching and developing every aspect of these craft, and they also have an educational outreach program currently in operating, visiting over 200 schools per year.

And, well, that's it! Those are the last of the (potential) space tourism companies that I was able to find in my last bit of research. For those of you who are counting, that brings the total to twenty-eight space tourism companies that I have been able to find. Twenty eight! 28! That's incredible number! And to think, just a couple of weeks ago, I only knew of ten or so. It certainly adds a hopeful note to the prospects of space tourism competition. I am really looking forward to seeing how this all turns out. How about you?

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Even More Space Tourism Companies

I can hardly believe it myself, but after the two lists of space tourism companies that I originally wrote up, I still missed a few! I'm completely astounded at the sheer number of these companies that I have found since starting research for this site! You can see my original list of nine here, and my additional list of five here. So without further ado, in no particular order this time:

PlanetSpace is a Chicago-based company that intends to provide many different kinds of spaceflight services, including satellite launches, crew and supply transfer to the International Space Station, (interestingly) global travel, and last but not least, space tourism. They have a very unique and cool-looking spacecraft design in mind called the Silver Dart, which will have the capability to be reconfigured for a variety of purposes, from payload delivery to extended manned orbital missions. Their space tourism craft, however, is called the Arrow. The Arrow is a two-stage rocket that will carry passengers to the brink of space, then will re-enter the atmosphere and slow itself with parachutes and a two-stage descent system. I could find few details on any sort of timeline or development progress, but they claim they will be taking reservations soon.

Alltra (short for All Transport) is a German company interested in constructing a huge space habitat called The Space Hotel Berlin. Currently, they only appear to be involved in promoting space tourism, and in a hybrid rocket propulsion project, but if ambition is a driving force of innovation, who knows? They really could put their plans to practice.

The da Vinci Project and The DreamSpace Group
The da Vinci Project was founded in 1996 to participate in the Ansari X-Prize competition. They had a unique design involving lifting a rocket to 70,000 feet with a helium balloon before igniting it. Their vision has always involved a goal of space tourism. They now participate in the annual X-Prize Cup. Their planned design involved a nine-person sub-orbital craft, with future aspirations of orbital flight and beyond. More recently, they partnered with the DreamSpace Group, a company founded by the founder of The da Vinci Project, to design the XF1, a realization of The da Vinci Project's original design. However, no new news has come out of these companies recently; the 2007 expected test date for the XF1 has come and gone without a peep, and DreamSpace's website seems to have disappeared.

G.A.P Adventures
This us a rather unorthodox space tourism company. Most space tourism endeavors begin with a company that already has some sort of atmospheric or spaceflight capabilities to build from. G.A.P Adventures takes the opposite approach; they're a tourism company seeking to add space to their extensive list of destinations. They announced these intentions last November, and they are starting with three options that simulate spaceflight in various ways (though they don't offer true spaceflight yet). They plan to allow passengers to fly to 60,000 of space aboard a Russian MIG-31 fighter jet, they will take passengers on parabolic flights to simulate zero-gravity, and they will send tourists through five days of Cosmonaut training. These may be good options for those who have no wish to shell out the money for true spaceflight, but are still interested in a similar experience.

Incredible Adventures
So long as we're going to mention companies offering simulated spaceflight experiences, we should mention Incredible Adventures. Like G.A.P Adventures, they offer several forms of space-like experiences, including parabolic flights simulating zero gravity, cosmonaut training, and aircraft flights to the upper atmosphere. However, they have current plans to offer suborbital spaceflight as well, via the Rocketplane XP spacecraft currently being developed.

Interorbital Systems
Interorbital Systems is a company based in Mojave, California, and is currently in the process of developing systems capable of carrying tourists into orbit. They have been working with various spaceflight technologies since their founding in 1996, and they believe they have sufficient technology to construct an orbital spacecraft and begin regular tourist orbital operations by late 2009. Their starting cost is $2 million, but to infuse some extra money in their development project, they have a special "free trip to space" offer. The deal is this: you give them $250,000 now (an eighth of the expected standard price), they take you to space when they begin operations, and two years after your flight, they give your money back. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me! If I was able to get my hands on hat kind of money, I would seriously consider going for it. There's only 9 more tickets available in this offer, so if you like the idea, you had better contact them soon.
Proposed orbital flights: $2,000,000

Masten Space
How could I forget Masten Space? And twice, no less? I've been following this company for ages! Masten Space is a company that has a very organized planned process for designing spacecraft for multiple applications, including extra-orbital activities, extra-planetary landing and takeoff, and of course, space tourism. Specifically, they have an interest in transferring crew to the International Space Station for governments and tourists to the space complex being designed by Bigelow Aerospace. Currently, they are designing the systems necessary for the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities that their spacecraft are planned to have.

The details I've managed to gather about this one are rather sketchy, but in short, Micro-Space fully intends to develop technologies to bring space travel (specifically orbital and deep-space travel) down to the $10-$20 million range. Though the details, again, are sketchy, they do seem to have something to back their claims, because they successfully tested two of the ultra-light rockets that they plan on using for these purposes back in 2004.

I'm afraid I'll have to end it here; I've stumbled across so many more companies, I've literally run out of room to label this post with all their names! Probably best that I break this up into two posts anyway, so look for more tomorrow!

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My College Years

Yes, it's that time, boys and girls; it's time for another installment of boring you with my personal history!

I had finally made it! I had made it out of the prison that was my high school and clawed my way up into college. So it's going to get better, I thought to myself! It's going to be more about practical experience and less about rote memorization and repetition, right? Right?

These are the kinds of things I laugh about today.

No, it turns out that the teaching through experience bit only happens in the higher level courses, and not so much in my field even then. So it was back to the drudgery of the rote memorization that I despised so very very much. I resigned myself to this life, at least for the moment, and turned my attention to more pressing matters; I was broke.

I needed a job! I need to feed myself and buy textbooks and such! I was lucky, though. A family friend was in charge of hiring for a local factory, and I got hired there easily. I believe her exact words were, "Don't worry, I know who you are. If you don't work, I'll fire you." It wasn't pretty work. The factory made miscellaneous plastic parts, and my highly important job was to stack up the parts and put them in boxes. But it was work, and the people there were good, and that helped.

This went on for a couple of years, but then I started to falter in school. My grades dropped, and one term, I actually managed to fail three out of four classes! I've pondered the reasons for this ever since. The symptoms were a lack of interest in school. I started skipping classes and failing to do my homework. But it wasn't that I didn't want to learn; that's not it at all. I would often skip a class so I could spend some time taking something apart to find out how it works, or so I could go to the library and read up on some interesting subject. The problem behind this was that I was sick and tired of learning on the school's terms! Hate is a strong word, but it applies; I had come to hate the school's method of teaching, the same method that I had been struggling with all my life! Rote memorization and repetition works for some people, but our school system, and even our colleges and universities seem to think that it applies to everyone. It does not! I have seen close friends who were complete geniuses drop out of school and fade into obscurity because they couldn't learn this way! I was very lucky in that I could, but it was an extraordinary struggle! I literally started getting nauseous when I was given a big assignment. However, several things happened that helped me turn the ship around.

That was around the time of the incident in which the Columbia space shuttle burned up on re-entry. What a terrible tragedy that was! Incidentally, I have a cousin who is a smoke jumper, and she was on one of the teams gathering the wreckage. She's one of the coolest people I know. But I digress. This really wasn't much of a blow to my spaceflight aspirations; I was always aware of the dangers of spaceflight, and I'm willing to take the risk. In fact, my philosophy has always been that blowing up in a spacecraft would be a hell of a way to go! But I digress.


I do that a lot.

Anyway, This was also around the time the Ansari X-Prize was really heating up. Two or three of the competitors were performing flight tests and were coming very close to their initial launches. This was inspirational for me; that in the face of the space shuttle disaster, these private companies could still be competing so diligently toward the goal of manned spaceflight, with much less money and fewer resources than the U.S. government. A better story of persistence in the face of complete disaster I have rarely heard! This helped my morale quite a bit, and then when SpaceShipOne made its three spectacular flights, and I learned the story of its development, well, I was hooked. It really gave me new drive to accomplish my ultimate goal, and helped me choke down the bile brought on by the horrid learning techniques that I had to endure.

The last thing that happened about that time is that I got laid off from the factory. This sounds pretty bad, but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It got me to look into getting a job in my field, and two weeks later, I had landed a great student job at the university. It paid more, it was two blocks from the dorms, and it was a heck of a lot more fun! Nothing motivates like having a job you like. And I have no doubt that part of the reason I got that job was those hard years I had put in at the factory, and the great references I earned there. This brings me to my second rule for getting into space:

Rule 2: Get a Job.

Any job. And early. Get a part-time job in high school if you can. Even if the only job you can get is the most disgusting, wretched, horrid job you can think of, take it, do the job like you mean it, and don't quit. About now, you're wondering how you could possibly get to space with the money from a job like that. You can't. However, having any kind of job on your resume will help you get a better job later on, and that one will help you get an even better job. Then you can start making the kind of money you need to get to space. A pattern I've found in observing my friends and family is that the people who stick with the awful job and never give up are the ones who go on to bigger and better things later in life. The people who get tired of their job, give up, quit, and look for another are the ones who struggle to get anywhere in life. If you want to get into space, it's almost a requirement that no matter what you do, do it well and don't quit! Slogging through a crap job for a few years will do wonders for you in the long run.

So I had a great job, and new motivation, and that helped push me through. It took me five and a half years to get that four-year degree, but I didn't give up, and now I have a piece of paper on my wall to prove it. Unfortunately, my graduation presented me with a whole new bucket of problems. Remember how I oh-so-casually mentioned that my new, great job was a student job? Well, I was no longer a student, so they kicked me out. I submitted application after application to companies all over the area, but I had few bites. I had to get yet another job and get it fast. My rent was due and the clock was ticking.

But that, my friends, is a long-winded story for another day.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

More Potential Space Tourism Companies

Okay, okay, I missed a few, I admit it! There are just so (surprisingly) many space tourism companies out there, it's hard not to miss a few. If you want to read my original list, it's here, but here's details on a few more companies that might have a future interest in sending you to space!

LiftPort Group
The LiftPort group is a corporation that is affiliated with several companies with the common interest in building a space elevator. That's right, folks, a space elevator! They plan on developing the technology required to suspend a satellite in orbit and tether it to a platform floating in the South Pacific with a couple of ribbons made from carbon nanotubes thousands of miles long. These ribbons will support lifters (powered by ground-based lasers) that will be able to carry loads into orbit and back. Quite an endeavor! However, they have most of the physics worked out, and it seems quite feasible. So far, they have successfully suspended a tethered platform a mile up (via propellants) and had prototype lifters climb up and down the tether. They plan to have their first full-scale lift launch on October 27, 3031. Tickets are available now! (However, each ticket is only good to have one ounce lifted into orbit.)
Proposed orbital lifts: $25 per ounce

Armadillo Aerospace
Armadillo Aerospace was founded in the year 2000, and has a stated goal of sub-orbital space tourism, and log-term goals of orbital manned space flight. Their organization is relatively small, but they have had some success in the design and construction of proof-of-concept space vehicle components. They were a competitor in the original Ansari X-Prize, and they compete today in the X-Prize Cup. Armadillo's creations rely on computer-controlled stabilization systems instead of being aerodynamic, and can therefore be quite unique in design. In 2004, they demonstrated the third unmanned vehicle in history capable of vertical takeoff and landing. They are currently researching solutions for lunar-lander and orbital launch vehicles. And they have a really cool little mascot named Widget.

ARCA (Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association) is an organization financed by a group of European companies. Like Armadillo Aerospace, they were one of the participants in the original Ansari X-Prize competition, and they are competitors today in the X-Prize cup. Like Scaled Composites, they specialize partly in composite materials, and in fact built and launched the first rocket constructed of composite materials. They have a couple of manned space-related projects in the works, and while I haven't seen any officially announced plans for them to venture into space tourism, it remains a possibility.

Rocketplane Global
Rocketplane Global was founded in Oklahoma in 2001. The company's sole purpose is the development of commercial space travel. They are currently developing the XP, a spacecraft that looks strikingly like a business jet; the main difference is the giant rocket built into the back. It will carry a pilot and five passengers, and unlike SpaceShipTwo, it will be capable of powered flight after re-entry. The vehicle's design was announced late last year, along with a rough timeline of flight tests in 2009 and initial tourist flights in 2010.
Proposed sub-orbital flights: $250,000

XCOR Aerospace
XCOR designs rockets and vehicles for space agencies all over the world. Among their current projects is a design for a methane rocket engine to be installed on the lunar return vehicle that will be used by NASA when they return to the moon. More to the point, though, they are developing the Xerus, a low-budget sub-orbital space plane that will carry one pilot and one passenger to the edge of space and back. They intend this vehicle to be used for space tourism.

And well, those are all of the potential space tourism companies I am aware of. Those, along with my original list of nine, bring the number up to no less than fourteen companies actively developing systems that could enable tourists to take to space! Imagine, if even two or three of these companies succeed in their efforts, we could have all sorts of options for different forms of spaceflight, and a lot of competition four our space tourism dollars. These are exciting times indeed!

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Virgin Galactic

Well, I was hoping to bring you all some sort of interesting space tourism news this week, but it seems to be a slow week for that sort of thing, so I'll start profiling some of the space tourism companies (as promised) instead.

I'll start with Virgin Galactic. They're the second on my original list, but they're my personal favorite, so I'm beginning with them.

It all started with a company named Scaled Composites, led by a man named Burt Rutan. Scaled Composites was founded in 1982, and focused primarily on designing and building unique aircraft from non-metal composite materials, and on designing the fabrication processes needed to do so.

Then came the arrival of the Ansari X-Prize. In May of 1996, a competition was announced to give $10,000,000 to the first private company to launch a single craft carrying three people into space twice within a week, without replacing more than 10% of the vehicle's mass in between. Burt Rutan and the fine people at Scaled thought they just might have the resources and expertise necessary to pull it off.

Well, they did. A group of about 120 people developed a successful space program in eight years' time, on a budget of twenty million dollars, with the first manned spacecraft capable of re-entering Earth's atmosphere without a heat shield! Those aren't the only feats they pulled off; SpaceShipOne was only the second mechanically-controlled aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier, it became the fastest mechanically-controlled aircraft ever at speeds exceeding Mach 3, and it did so while flying straight up! Also, it broke the record altitude for a rocket plane by a few thousand feet, beating out the U.S. military's X-15. Scaled Composites' budget required them to get very creative during the development and testing of SpaceShipOne. For example, they didn't have money for wind tunnel tests, so they put pieces of the craft on the back of a pickup and drove really fast down a runway instead! And during the whole process of building and testing SpaceShipOne, they came close to disaster no less than three times! Again, if you haven't seen it, I recommend the Discovery Channel documentary on this process (on the right); it's highly entertaining. And here's a cool picture.

And another.

Anyway, I'm rambling. SpaceShipOne successfully won the Ansari X-Prize on October 4, 2004. Shortly thereafter, Virgin Galactic was founded by Sir Richard Branson, a (somewhat amusingly named) member of his Virgin group of companies. He then announced plans to team up with Burt Rutan to found The Spaceship Company, the company that is responsible for the design and construction of SpaceShipTwo, and its "mothership", WhiteKnightTwo. Virgin Galactic then contracted The Spaceship Company to deliver five SpaceShipTwos and two WhiteKnightTwos for their initial operations. Just a couple of weeks ago, designs and pictures of the first SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo (named Enterprise and Eve, respectively) were released to the general public. Here are a couple of those pictures!

So there you have it! Flight tests are expected to begin this summer, with actual tourist flights beginning in 2009. For a the mere $200,000 price tag, you too can touch the sky! Or... something sappy like that.

Wait, you don't think it ends there, do you? Not at all! Burt Rutan has a three-tiered solution to the space tourism problem. SpaceShipOne and Two are part of his Tier One vision, consisting of sub-orbital tourism. There are still two tiers left! Tier Two will be orbital tourism. There are already rough plans in the works for the Tier Two craft, which will likely be loosely based on SpaceShipTwo. Tier Three? Well, that's where you get to leave the Earth's orbit altogether and visit the Moon, or perhaps L2, the gravitational "balance point" on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun (more on Lagrange points here). There are exciting times ahead, so stay tuned!

Images credit Scaled Composites, LLC (first two), Virgin Galactic (third), and Reuters (fourth)

Progress: 3.24% Flight Time: 0:04:51

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Progress Bar!

Well, I've been meaning to do this, and now I've found the time. That progress bar down there represents the progress I've made in saving toward my trip to space! This is, of course, more to motivate me than for your information. I'm basing the progress bar on the cost of a flight on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (though I reserve the right to change that in the future). So far, I've managed to save 3.24%, and I'm putting a little more away every month. If I've done the math right, I have enough for four minutes, fifty-one seconds of SpaceShipTwo's expected two hour, thirty minute flight time! Wooo!

Anyway, I'll be updating this bar continually throughout my journey.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More on my Journey

So I've told you all that I'm trying to get into space, and I told you that I started in High School, but I haven't given you any idea about what I've done so far. So let me tell you how my life has been warped and twisted by this endeavor!

The first step was college. This was a bit of a stickler for me. Now I daresay it's easy to get funding for college (through loans, if nothing else) so long as your grades are good. Unfortunately for me, grades have never been my strong suit. However, I knew college would be essential if I was to get into space. Back then, there were no operating space tourism companies, but I assumed that space travel would be prohibitively expensive. The relevant statistic here is that college graduates, on average, make a million dollars more during their lifetimes. This brings me to my first rule for getting into space:

Rule 1: Go to College.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to get into space without going to college, but it will be a lot harder. And yeah, college is a drag. Doubly so for me. But it has to be done.

But back to my problem. Grades. Blah. The way I feel about grades can be summed up by the following list of more accurate measurements of a student's abilities:
1. How far the student can spit.
2. The distance between the student's nostrils.
3. The height of the student's best friend.
4. A random number between one and a million.
5. The sum of the student's phone number.
6. 28.

As you have probably guessed by now, my grades were horrid. I'll save further rants about our terrible grading system for another post. On to college! My college of choice had a two-tiered application process. If you had a high school GPA of 3.00, you could fill out a simple form. If it was lower, you had to fill out a more complex form and submit an essay. My high school GPA was (drumroll) 2.98. What a frustrating number that was! It wasn't that I didn't do the work; it's just that I didn't learn the way everyone expected me to. 95% of high school classes relied on memorization through repetition. I, frankly, suck at that. I'm much much better at memorization through experience, but high school is not known for teaching by hands-on example. As a result, I fought tooth-and-nail until my fingertips were but bloody stumps to get that 2.98! But then I realized, one summer, I took a course at a local community college, because it was on some advanced topics of a subject I was interested in (computer science), which they barely taught at all in high school. I was given a choice, and in my infinite wisdom, I opted to take it as college credit so that I would have just a smidgen done when I finally did make it to college. I got an A in that course, but could I really claim it as high school credit, having already racked up 4 college credits for it? Could I really play the system like that? Could I really channel this warped and twisted system to my own design?

Turns out I could!

That A bumped me up to a 3.01 GPA, just enough to let me slip into my college of choice! But I'll quit boring you now. College is important, blah blah blah. Later, I'll bore you about my college years, and perhaps go off on that whole grades rant I promised. See you there!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Space Tourism Companies

I mentioned in my first post that there are no less than five companies seriously working toward sending rich people (and perhaps an average joe) into space. I'll now back that up by giving a run-down and brief description of each of these companies, in order of how far along they are in their plans to send people to space.

Space Adventures Ltd
Everybody has heard of this one, but almost nobody knows its name. This is the company that currently partners with the Russian government to send people for week-long stays at the International Space Station. As of the beginning of 2007, this is the only Space Tourism company actively getting people into space. They also have plans to construct their own sub-orbital spacecraft, and long-term plans to send people to the moon.
One week on the ISS: $30,000,000
Proposed sub-orbital flights: $102,000
Proposed trips to the moon: $100,000,000

Virgin Galactic
This company is partnering with Scaled Composites in the construction of SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is currently under construction, and will begin flight testing this summer. Sub-orbital tourist flights are expected to begin in 2009. They are also planning ahead for orbital flights and beyond, but no specific details have been announced.
Proposed sub-orbital flights: $200,000

SpaceX is currently constructing a prototype of Dragon, a Soyuz-like vehicle capable of taking 7 people into orbit. Dragon will first be tested in flight this year. Though SpaceX is primarily geared toward providing spaceflight services to governments, and have no announced plans for space tourism, I mention them here anyway because of:

Bigelow Aerospace
Bigelow Aerospace is more focused on creating structures in space than on getting people there. However, space hotels intended for tourists are among their future plans. Their structures are based on a unique inflatable design, and they have two prototypes in orbit right now. It has been suggested that SpaceX's Dragon capsules could be used to transport people to the proposed space hotels, but no specific plans have been announced.

EADS Astrium
This company actively develops systems that are being used in space, including the Colombus capsule that was launched yesterday aboard Atlantis toward the International Space Station. It is currently developing an aircraft somewhat similar to SpaceShipOne in that it is designed to launch six people into space from atmospheric flight. The difference is that SpaceShipOne uses a "mothership" to carry it up to launch altitude, while Astrium's craft is designed to be capable of both powered atmospheric and sub-orbital flight without the need of a mothership.

Blue Origin
Blue Origin is currently designing a unique sub-orbital craft capable of vertical takeoff and landing, with the intent to use it for space tourism. As of today, they have had one successful test... to 285 feet. This company is fairly hush-hush, so details about their specific plans are scarce.

Benson Space
Benson Space was founded by the founder of SpaceDev, the company that designed the hybrid rocket engine for SpaceShipOne. They plan to use the Dreamcatcher, a craft being designed by SpaceDev, to provide sub-orbital flights (and potentially future orbital flights) to tourists. They intend to launch the first sub-orbital tourism craft, and will have to beat Virgin Galactic's expected 2009 launches to do it.
Proposed sub-orbital flights: $200,000-$300,000

Constellation Services International
This company has rather ambitious plans to refurbish and upgrade used Soyuz capsules for orbital space tourism and cargo transport, as well as trips around the moon. Their proposed journey to the moon would include a week-long stay at the International Space Station. Few specific plans have been announced.

Excalibur Almaz
This company has plans to develop space tourism by means of modernized Russian TKS capsules (which have flown successfully unmanned) and plans derived from the Russian Almaz space stations, three of which were launched in the 70s.

So by my count, that's nine companies that will potentially be involved in space tourism! Many more than the five I promised. In future posts, I'll be profiling each of these companies (to the best of my amateurish abilities). So keep reading!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Barack Obama (Yes, we can!)

Okay, I'm going to get into a bit of politics here. You're going to catch me posting on a lot of subjects not necessarily related to space tourism, because I have a variety of things to say, an this is a great place to say them. Don't worry though; I'll keep it mostly on-topic.

It is no coincidence that I started this blog a day after I first saw this video. I've been a supporter of Barack Obama for two years now, with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm. However, I have always tended to stick with him, and one of the many reasons for that is the message he brings to our politics about looking to the future and trying to make this world better. Oh, don't get me wrong; all politicians talk about education and health care, and some about the environment and reducing the national debt, but it's always after a barrage and focus groups and polls, and it's always robotic, parsed, and compromised to death. It's always exactly what you want to hear, and never what you want to feel.

That is where Barack comes in. There has nothing I have seen in the two years that I have followed his career that leads me to believe that what he says is not from his heart, from his soul. And some of his recent speeches, such as his Iowa victory speech, and his speech at a rally in New Hampshire, have really been incredible. However, I'm not afraid to admit that I was nearly brought to tears when I saw the music video based on the latter speech. The theme, "Yes, We Can," brought back all of the reasons why I have decided to try and make it into space, and reinforced my feeling that we can heal this country, fix what is broken, and leave the world better than we found it. That is when I decided to start writing my experiences down and sharing my personal dream with those who care to read. The words that Barack spoke that day echo my feelings and my determination to realize my personal dream, and for all of us to do the same.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

I'm going to space!

Welcome one and all!

My name (well, my name here) is Joe Space Tourist. And let me tell you why:

When I was in high school (about ten years or so ago; I'm 26), I decided that someday, I would go to space. I was just a regular kid in a regular school among the regular masses, silent and vocal, repressed and excited, optimistic and beaten-down. But I had watched the shuttle launches. I had watched the old Mercury and Apollo, and Soyuz capsules fly into space, circle the Earth, bring people from this planet safely to the Moon and back again, and Touch The Sky. I knew; I knew that I had to be part of this. That I had to, somehow, in some way, bring myself to the edge of human exploration, of human thought and dreams and imagination. I wanted to do something fantastic, and I still do.

In short, I fully intend to light a rocket under my butt and shoot myself out of the atmosphere.

I had a problem though; I simply was not cut out for the astronaut corps. I (frankly) sucked at school, I have bad eyesight in one eye, and I wasn't willing to join the military, for reasons that I may or may not get into later. I knew back then, and I fully admitted to myself, that I would never be an astronaut in the traditional sense. So even back in high school, I put my hopes on private companies to eventually help me find a way to fulfill my dream.

Then came the Ansari X-Prize. What a great idea! To promise $20 million dollars to the first private company that could launch three people into space twice within a week. Practically the definition of space tourism! And the results were spectacular. In the year 2004, there were exactly four manned launches into space. One was a Russian Soyuz capsule sending new personnel and supplies to the International Space Station. The other three were SpaceShipOne.

SpaceShipOne and the whole team at Scaled Composites are amazing. A hundred and twenty people created a successful space program with only $10 million in funds. How incredible is that? Not only that, but the ship they designed only had a few moving parts, was mechanically controlled, was capable of re-entering the atmosphere without a heat shield and was first piloted by a 60 year old high school dropout! There is nothing about SpaceShipOne's story that isn't incredible! If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend the Discovery Channel documentary on the design, construction, and testing of SpaceShipOne (on the right). It's very entertaining and thought-provoking, and they come very close to complete disaster no less than three times!

After SpaceShipOne's three successful flights, it was retired (it now hangs from the ceiling at the Smithsonian), and Scaled Composites partnered with the newly-founded Virgin Galactic to create SpaceShipTwo and sell flights to the general public. They're not the only ones; today, there are no fewer than five companies around the world with serious plans to provide similar flights. Virgin Galactic even set a price: $200,000 per flight.

$200,000? That's a bit of a stickler. Most people assume that this prohibitive price sets space tourism firmly in the realm of the obscenely wealthy.

Well, that is why I'm writing this blog. I'm going to prove them wrong, and I'm going to share my journey with you.

The $200,000 price tag gave me three choices. I could give up on my dream, but for me, that's not an option. I could wait for more companies to enter the arena and prices to drop; this could very well happen, but I don't want to rely on it. So my third option is to spend my life working toward this. That is what I have decided to do.

In other words, I'm not here to say that anyone can do this. Not everyone can. It's going to take a hell of a lot of drive, determination, careful planning, and above all, the ability to turn nay-sayers into fuel for the fire. Anyone who tells me I can't do this only makes me more determined to prove them wrong. In other words, what I am saying is that anyone with these qualities can do this. You, too, can go to space.

And I'm going to prove it.