The mission of Mach 30 is “to hasten the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization.” But what does that mean? When we talk about a “spacefaring civilization,” we are talking about the promises of the 1960s made real. Consider the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in April 1968 over a year before the first humans walked on the Moon. This movie predicted that by 2001 major airlines would be offering regular service to Low Earth Orbit using reusable space planes. It also predicted there would be multiple, extensive lunar bases. And, let’s not forget that the defining mission to another planet is not to Mars (been there, done that?) but to Jupiter and its moons! This is something that not even the most forward looking advocates of space exploration are discussing.
2001 is not the only example from the 1960s that makes these kind of predictions. There are a number of of books, videos, and other material that all promised a very similar future (routine access to space, lunar colonies, expeditions to Mars), all by the end of the twentieth century. Yet, none of this has come to pass. At present, all human access to Earth orbit is still provided by government space programs. And the Space Shuttle, while partly reusable, does not come close to being the kind of space plane that can make routine flights to space (commercial or otherwise) a reality.
Yes commercial companies are starting to work on access to space, but each of them has to start at square one when they are founded. Just look at the first project of almost every new space company: design and build a rocket engine. Seriously, if you want to start a spaceflight company, the first thing you need to do is design your own rocket engine. This is the equivalent of saying go design your own jet engine to anyone who wants to start an airline.
Still, we believe, some day the kind of future predicted in 2001 (or one very much like it) will come to pass. It is a vision born of the idea that commercial enterprise has developed the tools, technologies, and markets to establish a true space economy. And eventually all of those things will come to pass. It is just in our nature to push the boundaries of what can be done and where we can go. So, reaching this future is less a question of if, and more a question of when.
Given the costs associated with spaceflight (and the amount of effort spent reinventing the “wheel”), it seems reasonable to assume that without any intervention it will take quite a bit of time before we reach the future promised in the film 2001. Our goal at Mach 30 is to shorten the wait. We believe that by applying the principles of sustainability, open source development, and the use of mature technology we can get off the “not invented here” merry-go-round, and instead get on a path toward evolutionary improvements built on a shared foundation of technologies. And that like the explosion of commercial enterprise on the Internet, this shared foundation will lead to new and unimagined markets in space for commercial enterprise to serve.
In order to achieve the “become a spacefaring society“ portion of the Mach 30 mission, we can’t focus our efforts solely on scientists and engineers; we must also tap into imagination and spirit of adventure that will lead the rest of society to support our efforts to explore the galaxy. To that end, we are excited to share today’s guest post from Molly Duncan, a former opera performance major and current English teacher, about what she learned in her college astronomy class.
My freshman year of college, I took a course called Astronomy of the Universe. I took it because I needed a lab science, and this one didn’t take a two-hour chunk out of my very busy music major schedule, since the labs were at night at the observatory. It ended up being one of the best classes I ever took, and sparked in me an interest in cosmology that continues to this day.
I was not a stellar astronomy student. The mathematical models were far over my head. I only barely comprehended things like the size of the universe and how it is expanding. But I found myself looking forward to it every week. I hung around the professor’s office asking questions and trying to deal with the largeness of it all.
What I loved about cosmology, and what I still love about cosmology, is how it makes me think. This is a science that is constantly trying to conceive of ideas that are literally too large for our minds to understand. Thinking about the size of the universe forces us to take what we already know and shape it into a radical new model.
For instance, science tells us that the universe is expanding. Picture that. Most of use will think of an image like a ripple in the water moving constantly outward. Then science tells us that the universe is expanding, but not from one central point. As a matter of fact, there is no central starting point of the universe. How do we picture that?
(Seriously, someone give me an image. I’ve been struggling with this one for 15 years).
The space program has given us many wonderful things; it’s greatest legacy, though, may be the expansive thinking it has inspired in us. We have a different perspective of who we are in the world and in the universe because of the Hubble space telescope, our Mars twins Spirit and Opportunity, the Voyager probes, Columbia and her sister shuttles, and Tranquility Base on the moon. I hope that as the shuttle makes it’s final orbit, we find ways to keep our minds journeying beyond the atmosphere.
Here’s a set of pictures from my trip to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch on mission STS-135, the final flight of the NASA shuttle fleet. We at Mach 30 are working to expedite the return of human space access here in the US. If you want to make sure that we continue to pursue safe, sustainable, routine and reliable access to space, donate now, like us on Facebook, or sign up for the newsletter… Then enjoy my photos!
“Ad astera per civitas – To space through community”