Science fiction edges a little closer to science fact as Richard Branson’s rather optimistically titled Virgin Galactic (Galactic? Has anyone explained the concept of astronomical distances to his marketing brand people? Oh well, we can forgive their enthusiasm, I think) space tourism jet and pod are exhibited to the public. The odd-looking ‘double jet’ design carries the central spacecraft pod which releases at 50, 000 feet to fly into space – well just, it’s a sub-orbital flight. At last the SF dream of space travel within the reach of the common man will become reality. Well, for a handful of extremely rich common folk! I strongly suspect the rest of us will have to wait much longer for easy and affordable holidays to the moon such as we were promised as kids back in the 70s, but you never know, this could be the starting point, despite my cynicism. Although much as I would dearly love to go into space given the level of service I’ve had from Branson’s cable company I’m not sure how much faith I’d put in his spacecraft reliability! Or am I being too cynical again? One thing I did like though was that Virgin Galactic advertised on the back pages of Virgin’s own recent Dan Dare mini-series. A nice touch, I must admit. (via the BBC)
While we’re on the theme of real as opposed to science fiction space travel (I’m guessing I’m not the only SF-head here who is also fascinated with the real life history of space exploration, am I?) please join me in wishing a happy fiftieth birthday to NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formed on July 29th, 1958, following the panic brought about the previous year by the Soviet Union’s groundbreaking launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1. Hard to credit that just a few decades after the end of the Second World War the technology used in the Nazi’s secret V2 rocket weapon which brought destruction to southern England would be adapted and modified until it was capable of taking mankind to the moon. Yes, perhaps it was more to do with competing against a Cold War enemy, but it doesn’t detract from the amazing accomplishment. The official NASA site has a plethora of features marking the agency’s 50th anniversary, including this amazing gallery of images from the first five decades of space exploration.
(compared to the effects in a modern blockbuster this image may look almost tame, but this is the first time in all of human history that our world appeared in the same frame as our moon, a photograph taken by the probe Voyager 1 some 7.25 million miles away at the time before it continued on out to explore the outer planets. Pic (c) NASA)