Friday, February 15, 2008

Space tourism. Finally, it’s our turn.

I’m a proud member of the generation that got to watch the first manned space missions in the 1960s. That was the time of the space race. What used to be called the Soviet Union beat us in putting both a satellite and a man in orbit. It all happened smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Both America and the Soviet Union were vying for the chance to be the first to put a man on the moon. A Texas Senator named Lyndon B. Johnson said he didn’t want to sleep by the light of a Communist moon. Today, we watch television broadcasts and get directions on our GPS devices from dozens of satellites orbiting the earth.

For a few years American played catch up, I clearly remember watching and waiting as American Astronaut Al Shepherd sat on top of the rocket, while Walter Cronkite kept us posted through each agonizing minute before the rocket finally launched, May 5, 1961, sending the first American into outer space. Our successes and failures were well documented; while the Soviets were far more secretive.

The big goal was still the moon, and America was the first, and still is the only, nation to land men there and return them safely back home.

We haven’t been back in a generation, just low-earth orbits aboard the International Space Station. Routine stuff, if anything about space travel can ever be considered routine.

In those days, who among us didn’t dream of becoming an astronaut? Nowadays, if you have a spare $200,000 lying around Richard Branson can make that dream a reality. Branson is an English entrepreneur, best known for his Virgin brand, which includes over 360 companies.

He and designer Burt Ruttan just unveiled Spaceship Two, a very cool looking Virgin Galactic spaceship that will carry up to six passengers for a quick trip to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. Passengers will actually experience several minutes of weightlessness and one heck of a view with full orbital flights coming soon.

Risky? You bet. However, there is already a long waiting list of people who want to fly to space and back.

Richard Branson is the classic entrepreneur. He believes that space shouldn’t be an exclusive domain of the government. It’s no different when other entrepreneurs made it possible and affordable for computers to move outside the once-exclusive domains of government and academia. I’m proud to have played a small part in all of that. Someone had to teach you how to use the darn things. We’ve taught over eight million people.

Flight tests will begin soon for Spaceship Two. Branson’s spaceship is to outer space what the Commodore 64 was for home computing. Look for the first-paying passengers to start their space adventures by 2010. For innovators like Branson, space won’t be the final frontier; it will be just another opportunity.

You, too, will be able to experience the right stuff if you have the right amount of cash and a true sense of adventure. Just think of all those frequent flier miles!

Would you fly into space if you could afford to? Let me know


John W. Scherer

(John W. Scherer is CEO and founder of Video Professor, Inc.)