Vol. 2, Issue 25, June 22, 2004
New Era Ushered in by SpaceShipOne a Disappointment So Far
Society has remained virtually unchanged since the supposedly historic flight of SpaceShipOne yesterday, according to disappointed observers around the nation.
"Like most Americans, we anticipated that this remarkable flight would mark the beginning of a new era of technological progress and change for the United States and for the world," said Edward Cornish, president of the World Future Society. "But I regret to say that for some reason, it just hasn't made a difference."
The privately-funded SpaceShipOne craft made aviation history when it flew more than 62 miles above the surface of the Earth on June 21. The craft, piloted by Mike Melvill, 62, took off from the Mojave Desert in California. A rocket called White Knight carried SpaceShipOne high into the air before the two craft separated and SpaceShipOne's jets boosted it beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
"We like to think that we're still near the beginning of the new space age," said aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who designed SpaceShipOne. "The fact that our first flight has not yet translated into flying cars for the average American is regrettable, but not, we think, an indication of failure."
Optimism peaked immediately following the flight of the spacecraft, the first to reach orbit with no government support whatsoever. However, this optimism soon waned as the technologies used to create the low-cost craft failed to spark the high-tech innovation clusters that had been hoped for. Before long, it became apparent that protein pills and personal anti-gravity systems were not forthcoming, and tech stocks plummeted.
NASA has asserted that the lack of progress since SpaceShipOne's flight is a clear demonstration of the need to maintain government-funded organizations to reach outer space.
"The space program has brought innumerable benefits to society, ranging from Velcro to pressurized ballpoint pens that write upside down and even in water," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "While we applaud the zeal of SpaceShipOne's investors, I think it is pretty clear at this point that the effort simply isn't big enough to have a meaningful impact on society."
NASA has been sensitive to recent media reports noting that the SpaceShipOne mission cost only $40 million, compared to the $450 million price tag of the average space shuttle mission. NASA released today analyses suggesting that real "eras" could only be kick-started with an investment of at least $5 billion.
Rutan and the SpaceShipOne team insist that a new era has indeed begun, though the signs may be too subtle to appreciate yet.
"We're not through yet," said Rutan. "The ray guns and silver jumpsuits are just around the corner. We just need to hang in there a while longer. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know."