space-capable tenant was secured at the spaceport.

Further evidence of California's lack of interest came at the AIAA conference, where one closely connected speaker said Schwarzenegger had to be reminded who Burt Rutan was prior to a private meeting between the governor and the aviation and space legend.

"I was disappointed when SB 1671 did not make it through appropriations, and certain senators from the left indicated it was millions for billionaires by investing," Witt said. "California is an odd beast. California is controlled by people who certainly have encouraged aerospace to go other places in the United States over the last 20 years. This industry has been encouraged to leave the state."

Space Mania

Still, Witt and others are convinced the space industry is primed to take off. When looking at the various projects currently under way, it becomes easy to share their optimism.

NASA, for example, is fundamentally changing the way it does business. For the first time, under the leadership of newly appointed Director Michael Griffin, the space agency awarded contracts to two private companies to bring cargo to the ISS. The contract winners were selected via a $500 million contest known as Commercial Orbital Transport Services (COTS). The winners, SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler, each demonstrated a capability to efficiently and safely deliver cargo to the ISS with a reusable launch vehicle. NASA reasoned that for $500 million -- half the cost of a single Shuttle launch -- it could encourage private industry to do some of the heavy lifting. The attitude is a new one for the agency.

"I think that Mike Griffin has fundamentally changed the image and the operation of NASA," Homans said. "What just happened in the last couple weeks when Griffin himself set aside $500 million for this COTS award and they awarded that $500 million to two companies, SpaceX and Kistler Rocketplane ... these companies are saying that for $200 [million] or $250 million we can provide a way at far less cost to take you to the space station and back, and take people and payloads with new technologies we're developing in the private sector in mostly a privately funded program to date, really this is the first government money coming into it.

"What you have is NASA embracing innovation," he continued, "embracing these entrepreneurs and giving them a shot to really prove their stuff."

Perhaps the biggest question is what does one do once in space? On suborbital flights, the reason will be the sheer thrill of a rocket ride into space. On the Rocketplane XP, for instance, passengers will ride to 25,000 feet, at which point the pilots will engage the rocket engine. The rockets will burn for 90 seconds, propelling passengers from about 250 knots to almost four times the speed of sound. In those 90 seconds, passengers will experience acceleration that is three and a half times the force of gravity until reaching the flight's zenith around 330,000 feet.

"After that 90 seconds, you're in a coasting phase, then the g-forces will lift, and you'll gradually approach microgravity," Edwards said. "You'll experience microgravity for about four to five minutes; you'll see the curvature of the earth; you'll see the blue ball; you'll be in the black part of space. The bird can be turned in such a way such that you can get a pretty good view, and then the bird will begin to descend on its own. Then you'll re-encounter the atmosphere, you'll encounter some g-forces again, though not as severe as those going up. After you get back in the atmosphere, the pilot will be positioned over the spaceport where he will do a circling landing. The whole thing will take place inside of an hour."

On the government side, Griffin and NASA are dedicating most of the agency's resources for the next decade or more to

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.