Off to see SpaceShipOne - with joy and tattered idealism
I left the Xprize volunteer training meeting convinced that the ballyhoo'd attempt to fly SpaceShipOne again on Oct 4th is intended to keep up interest in the Xprize and to make it sound more like a race.
I doubt that the spacecraft will fly twice in two weeks, this time. I think that doubt extends to the preparations - there are no plans in place for crowd control, no sign of any setup for broadcasting the followup, and everytime the subject of the followup launch was raised by a volunteer, we got, first, one of those pauses that I so hate from marketing people -
"Click". (internal dialog) I must repeat memorized statement to this question.
"Burt Rutan is responsible for the timing of the follow up launch and will make the engineering decision".
and then we'd watch them resume thinking normally. We'd ask the question again, somebody else would repeat the same answer, robotically, as if repetition would make it better....
The folk managing the event are into top down control - hollywood style broadcast - their idea of a mailing list is a broadcast-to-the-volunteers mailing from one of the managers.
I'm a bottom-up guy - my idea of managing volunteers would be have a mailing list that everyone could post to. Also they seemed uncomfortable with most of the volunteer's technical background - the actress and male model they had were what they were used to - and really, all they needed was people that could greet people and pick up trash - not aerospace students, pilots, and software engineers.
Rumor: "governator may be there". Remember, I heard that rumor from someone in marketing.
Ethically I'm a little challenged here, as a volunteer I want to help promote the event, to create enthusiasm for space flight - as a blogger with journalistic pretentions I want to write what I see and feel - and as a person - I want to go. I want to see it up close. I want to hang with people that see and care about space as I do.
Damn it. Maybe I'm getting a hint of what Walter Cronkite felt.
There are so many wonderful volunteers, including a group of 20 flying in from the university of Illinois. The kid behind organizing that is a pinnicle of idealism. I admire the hell out of his energy and enthusiasm - and pray that he spends it fulfilling the promise that my generation felt after we first walked on the moon.
Branson, of Virgin Galactic
is sinking 125m
into suborbital flights -
but everytime I see such enthusiasm, scenes flash behind my eyeballs - The Rotary Rocket
, a SSTO vehicle with an unworkable engine concept, and equally unworkable finances
. The Roton now rests in a helicopter museum, and the rest of Rotary Rocket was seized for back taxes
the DC-X, the Junkyard Rocket- which, for 60 m, flew again and again in the early 90s. It scared the jeepers out of NASA who eventually staged an "Open competition" and killed it off with the billion dollar boondoggle of the X-33... which never flew. The DC-X ended its life in a fiery crash
, on an otherwise perfect landing, aslosh with fuel....
and countless other failed attempts. It's hard to maintain that essential idealism given all the other attempts at commercial spaceflight made during my lifetime...
This I know - SpaceShipOne's design is good. The engine is underpowered - but far safer than most rockets, certainly far safer than the shuttle's. The craft itself is beautiful - and the people behind it believe, really believe. Just to see Burt Rutan or Paul Allen or any of those associated with the project speak brings tears to my eyes sometimes -
but me - I'll believe after I see it, feel it, hear it, and share it - with so many others - on the Mojave desert, Sept 29th, 2004.
See you there.