The news has been abuzz the last two weeks around billionaires flying into space. The morning of July 20th, all the morning shows were showing the happenings live. I kept changing the channel when they went to talk about it directly.
I get the implications of the two efforts, that space is now (or soon will be) a tourist attraction. I just do not consider it significant. Is society that detached from history to not recognize that these two billionaires were just replicating feats that were accomplished fifty or sixty, YES 50 TO 60, years ago.
The altitude record for a jet aircraft was set in 1963 , a pilot flew an X-15 to 354,199ft (67 miles). In 1961, Alan Shepard Jr. in the Freedom 7 space capsule, reached a height of 116 miles lasting 15 minutes. Follow that with me, near retirement, remembering having watched an astronaut walk on the moon before I was a teenager. Why would I now, in my mid 60’s, think someone going to the edge of space would even come close to being a big deal.
As an engineer, recognizing the leap in technology between the early 60’s and today, means this week’s “space feats” mean very, very little to me. The feats they accomplished in the 1960’s was with technology considered archaic today. Computers were real people, performing mathematics to determine the information required. What they accomplished recently, with today’s technology, was mere child’s play with the money they had available to throw at the situation.
Even sadder is the thought that it took 60 years to repeat these trips, because now they think there is a return on investment on going to space. I find this more disheartening than inspirational.
We as a country do not do as much research, as we do research and development. Meaning unless research quickly shows some type of path to return on investment, the research ends.
In the end, all we have left to hope for is “accidents”, like the famous post-it note story. But post-it notes are not going to get us to the moon and beyond.