Well, we’ve gone and done it. The private sector is beginning to move into space at last. Yesterday’s successful flight of SpaceShipOne up to around 62 miles above the Earth, and into weightless conditions, marks the turning point for many things for us all.
The wild pioneer who piloted the vessel during this first is Michael Melvill, who may certainly earn himself a place in history as the first man not associated with a government agency to leave the planet (as far as we know, I suppose).
However, the journey is certainly not yet for us all, having been backed financially mostly by Paul Allen, the local Seattle Microsoft-made billionaire, whose interest in the fun, and oftentimes stranger aspects of life have both benefited and frustrated many of us.
Paul brought us The Experience Music Project – a museum of rock music paraphenalia – and the strangest looking building I have ever seen. It has no form, really – the shape being chaotic, both in geometry and color. Now he’s built the world’s first Science Fiction Museum. He also turned the completely wild and insane, but deeply loved, or deeply hated, listener-supported and listener-driven Seattle radio station, KCMU, run by the students of the University of Washington, into KEXP – a well-funded, massively upgraded, yet still listener-funded (who knows why?) station playing music from now designated playlists, but still very alternative (by comparison to utterly corporate backed sound), by DJ’s that seem to stay around forever and never push the envelopes. No longer volunteers. KEXP(experience) is still owned by the University of Washington, but no students have much involvement. Mostly, it’s world-renowned for its internet-based multimedia delivery and archival capabilities now.
Oh yeah – he also purchased the Seattle Seahawks so they would not be taken away down to Los Angeles, and they now have a big nice new stadium Seahawks Stadium – or rather, just recently, Qwest Stadium, right next to Safeco Field, which, if I’m remembering right, the voters voted down twice.
Paul actually does do quite a lot of nice things, and I truly believe his heart is in the right place – it’s just that other people get involved who really want money and things to make them feel good about themselves. And the man contributed a huge amount to the SETI project – where I’ve just contributed CPU cycles. Then again, there’s the Allen Telescope Array…
So yes, the common man has made it into space! But he’s still getting there with a little help from some pretty uncommon people. But no, indeed, it is not the government.
It’s interesting to see Bush’s desire to force NASA into delegating off all of its stuff to private sector industry – coincidentally today, a presidental panel reached the conclusion that NASA should look to private industry “to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA.”
So yes, the common man. Making it into space. The Everyman rising up, in the great whir of our machinary.