A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to commercial human space travel:

** Beth Moses talks about her SpaceShipTwo flight and what she is doing to prepare others for such flights:

Describe to me the experience of being in space. We all saw that picture of you staring out the window in complete awe.

It was just magic and almost indescribable.

I felt very fortunate to fly where I did and the day I did. I felt like the Earth was so beautiful, but even more so than you can describe or can be imagined. I happened to fly on a day where we had snow on the mountains in the southwestern United States. And I remember vividly that appearance of glistening white mountaintops and blue Pacific Ocean and the green of the Earth. I told someone the other day I felt like Earth was wearing her diamonds for us that day, because it was so, so glistening and sharp.

It just took my breath away. It was amazing

“The face you make when you look back on Earth from space. Our Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship.” – Virgin Galactic

Clash: Compare the real flight to the simulations.

Moses: The Gz [force through the head] was of a much lower duration. I reached our expected Gz on boost and re-entry, but was pleasantly surprised at how short it was. It just ramps up and then ramps off. You take a breath and realize, ‘Oh this is high G,’ and you take another breath and say, ‘Oh, this is high G.’ By the time you’ve finished your second breath, it’s done, and you’re back to normal G. The Gz felt like the centrifuge, but the Gx [force through the chest] I didn’t perceive as strongly as I did in the centrifuge. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was so happy to be going up. So Gz felt like the NASTAR centrifuge, Gx did not. Both maximums were about 3.6.

Clash: Will you fly again?

Moses: I would love to go back up, but I also want to get future astronauts up there as fast as possible. So it depends on what we still have to test, how many test flights we have and for what reasons. We’re actually still mapping that out. But I will not nominate myself. There are lots of other skill-sets and factors that need to be tested, so I will train other folks to do those tests. I’m not trying to blindly hog evaluations. But if there are evaluations that need my particular skill-set, I might fly again. We’re still working that out.

** Richard Branson remains steadfastly upbeat about Virgin Galactic’s prospects: Richard Branson: We’re at the dawn of new era of space exploration (Opinion) – Richard Branson/CNN

I said after the flight on December 13, as I stood with our pilots, Frederick “CJ” Sturckow and Mark “Forger” Stucky, that when you set off on important adventures, exceptional people come forward to join the journey — people who are consistently by your side and on your side, people who share your dreams and people who help make them reality. Reaching space has been the ultimate team effort.

It is evident that we are finally at the dawn of a new age of space exploration, which will see reusable space vehicles built and operated by commercially successful private companies, transforming our business and personal lives in ways that we have yet to comprehend fully.

Standing on the flight line, I could hear my dad in the back of my mind saying, as he often did, “Isn’t life wonderful?”

** Land Rover designed the Astronaut Edition Range Rover just for “Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronaut customers”:

** Suborbital space tourism will be a lot safer than climbing Mt. Everest, thankfully: Everest deaths: Four reasons why this climbing season went wrong – BBC News

Over the past two decades, the average annual death rate of climbers on Mount Everest has remained at about six.

But this spring, at least 10 people have already been reported dead or missing on the world’s highest peak.

This is also the season that saw a record 381 climbing permits issued by the Nepalese government.

In reality, this means about 600 people were preparing to embark on the climb, with permit holders accompanied by support staff up the mountain.

** Virgin Galactic & Blue Origin near space tourism operations. VG is currently installing the interior seating in a SpaceShipTwo rocketplane and plans to begin flying customers this year. Blue Origin expects to fly people on the New Shepard for the first time in 2019, though ticket sales have yet to begun. So suborbital space tourism may finally get off the ground this year:  Suborbital space tourism nears its make-or-break moment – The Space Review

After the Ansari X Prize was won in October of 2004, I was sure that there would be regular space tourism services available by 2008. (I lost a bet, in fact, that there would be services by then.) Here it is 15 years later and I’m still waiting to see routine flights of public citizens to the edge of space.

This is disappointing for sure but it is hardly unusual that a technology takes a lot longer than expected to reach the market.

I enjoy listening to Jonathan Strickland on the TechStuff Podcast tell captivating stories behind the development and commercialization of technologies. He explains the science and engineering in a clear and straight-forward manner while also drawing fine verbal portraits of the fascinating characters involved and vividly depicting the often bitter and complex battles among them.

Many of the technologies we take for granted today saw decades pass between the initial key invention(s) and commercial success. I just listened, for example, to a podcast about compact audio cassette tapes and another on video cassettes. (These are in a series from Strickland on the development of media starting with records and films.) While not nearly as challenging as high altitude rocket transportation, there was still a considerable gap between the initial invention of flexible audio tape in Germany in the 1930s and high-fidelity audio cassettes in the 1970s.  The first video tape recorders appeared in the 1950s but the first successful home video recorders didn’t appear until the mid-1970s.

Technological devices typically involve multiple sub-technologies that must work well together as a system. Finding the optimum combination of technologies that synergize into an affordable, practical product seldom happens on the first try. Instead an evolutionary competition occurs with the fittest combo eventually winning after a long struggle that leaves behind a trail of failed designs and bankrupted companies.

In the mid-2000s, there was at least a half-dozen companies making serious efforts at a suborbital vehicle for space tourism. There was no grand overarching roadblock that a few keen outsiders saw that the companies didn’t. Rather, each encountered particular individualized hurdles that tripped them up.

For example, Virgin Galactic could have developed a SpaceShip 1.5 vehicle that involved modest improvements to the 3-seat SpaceShipOne and starting flying within a couple of years after the XPRIZE. Burt Rutan has said he had customers requesting flights on the SpaceShipOne. Instead, VG decided to jump straight to an elaborate 8-person vehicle. Unfortunately, the company ran into tremendous difficulties in scaling up the hybrid rocket motor used on the SS1 and even today does not have a motor that can send the SS2 above 100 km, which was the altitude boundary for the XPRIZE.

XCOR made good progress on low-cost, reliable liquid-fueled rocket engines but could not raise sufficient funding to bring the Lynx spaceplane to fruition. Rocketplane Ltd.‘s design based on a converted Learjet turned out not to be viable and by the time they changed the design they were out of money. Similarly, TGV Rockets fell short of funding to build the Michelle-B, a vertical takeoff and landing rocket vehicle similar to Blue’s New Shepard.

Blue Origin had plenty of funding but, after flying a couple of prototype vehicles, the company decided to focus on developing a new liquid hydrogen propulsion system that could be used for the booster of a suborbital vehicle and also for the upper stage of an orbital launcher. A highly reusable LOX/LH2 engine is no trivial technology so there’s little surprise it took them a few years to develop.

The suborbital space tourism story is just another confirmation that a new technology needs multiple entrants, all trying their hardest to make their designs work.

So, if the SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard vehicles do start flying regularly, does that guarantee a successful space tourism business? No, of course, not. No untried business is a guaranteed success. However, there are many positive signs.

For example, several hundred people have signed up for SS2 flights and most have waited patiently for many years. Only a few percent canceled after the 2014 accident and many of these dropped out not because of safety concerns but because they were discouraged by the additional years of waiting to fly.

If 600 people each year attempt to scale Mt. Everest, despite an annual average of 6 deaths, just to brag about the ordeal they overcame, we can be sure there will be no shortage of customers willing to pay for the totally unique thrill of riding a rocket straight up to the edge of space and encountering the awesome view of a glittering cosmos above and a glistening Earth below.

** A UBS Global Research view of commercial space travel:

** Russia’s KosmoKurs (КосмоКурс) is developing a suborbital vertical takeoff and landing rocket vehicle similar to Blue Origin’s New Shepard and also intended for tourism services. Like the New Shepard, up to six passengers would ride in a capsule that detaches from a booster and returns via parachutes. The goal is to build the vehicle by 2023.

** A customer for a Circumlunar Mission offered by Space Adventures wanted his deposit back as delays grew ever longer: Space Adventures reaches settlement with would-be lunar tourist – SpaceNews.com

[Harald] McPike, an Austrian businessman and adventurer who lives in the Bahamas, filed the original suit in May 2017, seeking the return of a $7 million deposit he paid to Space Adventures for a $150 million seat on a Soyuz mission that would go around the moon, and additional damages. The defendants in the suit included Space Adventures; Tom Shelley, the company’s president; and Eric Anderson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

According to McPike’s suit, he contacted Space Adventures in July 2012 about the possibility of flying on a mission around the moon that the company had been promoting for several years. In March 2013, he signed an agreement committing to participate in such a mission, and paid an initial deposit of $7 million towards the $150 million total price with the expectation that the mission would take place within six years.

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