Yesterday marked another milestone in space exploration as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first solo flight. The flight did not leave the atmosphere and lasted on 25 minutes, but Virgin Galactic is now one step closer to making space tourism a reality, and it comes at at time when NASA is going down the shitter.
Virgin Galactic is expected to launch its first commercial flight next year.
NASA is expecting to not have a space flight program at that time.
When SpaceShipOne was launched in 2004 it made two suborbital flights within a period of about 10 days. From conception to its second landing, it is estimated to have cost Virgin Galactic only about $25 million. By comparison, the latest Space Shuttle, even with the vast majority of R&D taken care of by the previous models, cost us $1.7 billion, and that doesn’t include the costs of astronaut training, mission control, rocket fuel, or the (non-recyclable) external tank.
Granted, the ships are extremely different. SpaceShipOne carries 3 people into a short suborbital flight; the Space Shuttle carries massive payloads into orbit. It’s the difference between a Kawasaki Ninja and a Mack Truck. But still, when you consider how much production costs decrease when you mass produce a vehicle, we could probably get 100 SpaceShipOnes and launch them 100 times each for the cost of building 1 Space Shuttle and allowing it to sit in a warehouse.
Also, SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo are a whole helluva lot more sexy and exciting than NASA’s Winged Brick.