“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” -Galileo
There should be a big vote going on today about the future of spaceflight in America. Obama has outlined his new space policy, and has called for the commercial sector to step up and get involved in spaceflight, particularly in low-orbit, satellite, and space launch technologies.
This is going to be a hard sell to a lot of politicians, of course, who will stand to lose many government jobs as programs like Constellation and the Space Shuttle go away.
But the payoff is potentially huge, as private industry looks very eager to take over these tasks. (Check out the commercial spaceflight federation; there’s plenty of interest and capability here.) This transition, mind you, has happened before. In the early days, NASA was pretty much entirely a military extension of the government. The first pictures of the Earth from space were from White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico in the 1940s, taken from aboard V-2 rockets.
The US satellites and launch vehicles that made NASA famous were old military projects, starting with Explorer I, which predates even the formation of NASA!
Although NASA was declared to be a civilian organization, the military involvement has remained huge. Of the 12 people who’ve walked on the Moon, 11 of them are former military. (Jack Schmitt, the last man to set foot on the Moon, was the only civilian.)
But times have changed.
A few years ago, the Ansari X-Prize was awarded to SpaceShipOne, a venture from private industry that launched a human safely up into space. And the era of Commercial Spaceflight had begun.
The X-Prize was named after Anoushah Ansari, the first female private space explorer, and the first astronaut of Iranian descent.
Why do I bring this up? Because it isn’t just the spacecraft, the payloads, and the launches that are going to be private in the future.
The astronauts are going to be private, too!
That’s right, private astronauts.
So who are these private astronauts going to be? And what types of missions and duties are they going to perform? Well, if you search for commercial astronaut on google, the first non-Wikipedia site you get is astronauts4hire.org, founded in April of this year.
There’s an interview with their President up at NewScientist, which I encourage you to read to get some basic answers to such questions as:
- Are commercial space flights really such a big deal for science?
- Being an astronaut is one of the pinnacles of human achievement today, but will it become a lot more like a regular job in future?
- What kind of science does sub-orbital flight allow you to do?
- What’s the idea behind Astronauts4Hire?
But I have a special treat for you. These are the first 17 aspiring commercial astronauts. And they have agreed to answer your questions, Starts With A Bang readers!
So here’s the deal. Ask them! (That’s what the comments here are for!) Ask the big questions that you want a commercial astronaut to answer. They can be easy, hard, political, scientific, personal… whatever you want. If you see a question you like, second (or third, etc.) it. And at the start of next week, I’ll select and send the five best questions based on your suggestions and recommendations to them! And I’ll post the (unedited) answers here as soon as I get them.
So here’s your big chance. Ask a commercial astronaut anything! What do you want to know?