Fifteen years of not going to space

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Dreams of being the first artist in space have soured for Makouri Scott, of Wanaka, since he became the first New Zealander to book a flight with Virgin Galactic. He shares his view of space travel with The News.

Space is as complex as it is dangerous and equally so is the space industry.
It’s like a James Bond movie complete with evil villains, egomaniacs, greedy billionaires, ruthless profit­driven corporate agendas and ultra-competitive global superpowers jostling for resources, position and power.
By way of example, a lot of the hype and recent push for a return trip to the Moon is purely commercial and about mining Helium-3, a kilo of which would power New York city for a year.
I don’t enjoy the dynamic at all.
Personally, the main reason I initially wanted to travel into space and signed up to the Virgin Galactic space programme some 15 years ago, in 2004, was to help anchor artistic and musical cornerstones into space culture.
I was also hoping to help build awareness of the multitude of ultra-critical, global, ecological, humanitarian and environmental issues currently facing our beautiful Earth, and via this conversation stimulate a shift in large-scale global resource allocation towards saving the planet from impending ruin.
Unfortunately not many people of genuine power or influence seem to care, Richard Branson included.
It’s all about the money, securing a first-edition Ferrari, private jets, the next Bentley, staying at the best hotels, building a future-proof fine art portfolio, the next super yacht, etc.
It may sound glamorous to some, but I find it extremely shallow.
A good example is the current push to colonise Mars.
Trillions are being spent on the vision to colonise outer planets in our solar system. Although I agree that it may well in time prove essential to do so for the survival of our species, those trillions in my opinion should be spent protecting what remains of planet Earth as a matter of priority.
I was invited to join a team travelling to the Martian moon Titan, a few years back but refused.
Not only was it highly likely a one-way ticket to Titan, once there you would have to battle daily temperatures of -27degC, not to mention the struggle to grow food and harvest water.
Not my cup of tea, sorry.
Another good example is the $175 million-plus Virgin Galactic Ltd has extracted from space dreamers like myself — 700 paying passengers at $250,000 each.
What real good has been done with any of this money?
Apart from exclusive private space events being thrown in exotic locations around the world, each costing tens of thousands to attend, still after 15 years none of us has been to space, despite being given multiple launch dates.
I’m not a big fan.
Many of the founding 100 future Virgin Galactic ‘‘astronauts’’ (well, sub-orbital space tourists, really), like myself, have expressed serious concerns as to the integrity and safety of the Virgin Galactic space programme after 15 years of false starts.
The cosmic background temperature in space is -235degC.
The heat on re-entry at over 6400kmh is between 2900degC and 6650degC, depending on the re-entry angle, in other words, a serious inferno.
But Virgin insists on using an ultra-thin, lightweight, carbon composite rocket shell, not too dissimilar to a conventional glider, to navigate such a fiery storm.
Both cockpit and passenger cabin are comfortably pressurised with zero contingency or back-up systems in case of hull breach, which is a risk when adventuring into an atmosphere with an estimated 1.7 million items of space junk, any of which could prove deadly on impact.
It’s fair to conclude that I’m not remotely as excited as I previously was about the prospect of travelling into space.
I still love space, but the idea of jumping into a carbon fibre rocket, which is essentially a bomb with seats and wings, does not fill me with confidence. Indeed, it sounds like a one-way ticket.
I’m philosophically opposed to what the space industry has come to represent — it’s just not cool any more.
Space still fascinates me, obviously. The reality of billions of planets in our little solar system and billions of solar systems is completely mind­blowing.

RESPONSE

The News asked Virgin Galactic to respond to some of the statements by Mr Scott. A spokesman provided the following:

Q: Are spaceflight tickets refundable?

Virgin Galactic took spaceflight deposits from Future Astronaut customers to provide reassurance that a readily available market existed for private spaceflight at a commercially sensible price – not to fund the programme’s development.

Customer deposits have always been held separately and securely and that remains the case today. Customers who decide to cancel their reservations receive an immediate deposit refund.

Q: How close does Virgin Galactic think space flight is?

We’ve been to space in flight testing in December [2018].

With regards to when commercial spaceflights will begin, we look forward to maintaining the great progress towards commercial flight that we established during 2018.

We are not in a position to confirm this date, as this is remains an incremental test flight programme.

That said, Richard has said months, not years.