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This is the archive for October 2006

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A real hero left this world last week. The good news is she's been blogging about it, and now she's back home safely.

I've added Anousheh Ansari to my blogroll. She fled Iran in 1979 when the Ayatollahs turned it into a place explicitly and irredeemably hostile to people with her values, educated herself - in the best Western tradition - made a few billion dollars, and is now at the forefront of the exploding private space industry.

That she paid her way up to the ISS as the third civilian tourist is interesting. What makes her more than another rich tourist is her ambition to make what she did profitable to private entrepreneurs, and thus possible for the rest of us. She funded the X-Prize to the tune of $10 million (yes, that's her name on the "Ansari X-Prize" for spaceflight), and intends to start her own fleet of ships in the next few years.

It's been two years since the X-Prize was claimed, and the developments since have been mind-boggling. A commercial spaceport is already being built in New Mexico, a private spaceport is being planned by Jeff Bezos in Texas, and many companies are competing for business in the varous niches of this infant industry, most notably Virgin Galactic (watch the movie), who have just recently announced that their World Headquarters will be located at the New Mexico port.

This explosion began when, in an amazing and rare fit of common sense, the federal government passed a bill which, for the most part, says that they'll do the one thing anybody really ever needs from government, just get the hell out of the way! The bill does that, at least to the extent that such is possible from government; it still leaves plenty of hooks in the industry, sure to be firmly set once there is some booty to be extorted.

The NM port is built by the state, but it could have been built by any of the major players. Branson probably could have put up the entire $200 million from his petty cash - and kept all the potential profit such a thing will likely generate. But it at least provides the first physical nexus for much of this activity. (tip: buy real estate around Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, and Hatch, NM, now), and it's effects in the long run will be little more than a footnote. Even the ISS will probably be obsolete before it is even finished, a dinosaur floating aimlessly above a world that has passed it by.

This is the biggest thing since fish grew legs. This is a civilization changing time. The first flights, trivial as they may be in their purpose, will provide experience to those participating, they'll provide markets for vendors and other secondary industries, they'll provide infrastructure both on the ground and in orbit to support more meaningful and more ambitious enterprise, and they'll provide a mindset in the average person that space is just another place to visit, work, and even live in.

As long as, that is, the feds and other governments do indeed stay the hell out of the way, at least until it's too late for them to stop it all. And, even more importantly, while there's people like Ansari, Branson, Rutan, Binnie, Melville, Diamandis, Bezos, Allen, and the thousands of others who have the vision, drive, skills, and resources to make it happen.