THEY DID IT!
Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne went up this morning, reached an altitude that news sources reported as 368,000 feet (69.7 miles), and returned to earth for a smooth landing at the Mojave Spaceport. It was their second such flight in five days.
Rutan and his ScaledComposites team thus qualified for the $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize, recouping about half of the development costs, the other half being invested by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame.
I note that this is the 47th anniversary of the event that kicked off the Cold War era's government-controlled space race: the launch and first orbits of Sputnik by the USSR, on October 4, 1957. There's some closure in that for me. I was born less than one month before Sputnik, and so, for my entire life, space exploration has been a creature of government, both advanced and retarded by the changing political winds, as well as focused on achieving national prestige and military advantage, instead of generating real, lasting value for humanity. Rigorous training and competition were designed to ensure that only those with the so-called "right stuff" would receive government approval to fly in space; everyone else had to be satisfied to watch astronauts drive lunar dune-buggies on TV. That era ended today. From now on, we the people are in charge, with pioneers (including Rutan and his pilots, Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie) and entrepreneurs (including Allen and Virgin's Richard Branson) at the front of the line and taking us forward, into a future where space is a place to go and live, to work and play, to the extent that those activities offer real value to regular people. Branson's well-publicized plans to offer suborbital tourism at $200,000 per seat aside, I have no doubt that the free market will find an infinity of profitable enterprises, the pursuit of which will draw humanity further into space than anyone would have guessed, sooner than anyone expects.
I would just like to say something to all my esteemed collectivist friends and colleagues out there, in view of our many arguments on various political message boards and blogs throughout cyberspace, concerning whether things like social safety nets, emergency assistance, roads, and other necessary social services can be provided by the private, free market economy. Pardon me if I adapt and repurpose an old expression, but I think it's especially appropriate today:
You'd think that, if they can put a man into space without taxes or government participation, they can solve problems here on earth without resorting to those things, either.
I certainly hope we have the SpaceShipOne team's courage to try. Congratulations to them, and best of luck to us all in the new Space Age.