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Transportation Space

Space Tourism Isn't Worth Dying For 594

rudy_wayne writes with this opinion piece at Wired published in the wake of the crash of SpaceShipTwo, which calls the project nothing more than a "millionaire boondoggle thrill ride." A selection: SpaceShipTwo is not a Federation starship. It's not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. Virgin Galactic is building the world's most expensive roller coaster, the aerospace version of Beluga caviar. It's a thing for rich people to do. Testing new aircraft takes a level of courage and ability beyond most humans. Those engineers and pilots are at the peak of human achievement. What they're doing is amazing. Why Virgin is doing it is not. When various corporate representatives eulogize those two pilots as pioneers who were helping to cross the Final Frontier, that should make you angry. That pilot died not for space but for a luxury service provider. His death doesn't get us closer to Mars; it just keeps rich people further away from weightlessness and a beautiful view.
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Space Tourism Isn't Worth Dying For

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  • Not worth it ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:49AM (#48291921)

    6 passengers per flight. That's six rich people and/or some really famous people.

    It's definitely worth if it one millionaire comes down and is so awestruck he decides to invest in a spaceflight company .

    It's worth it some A rated star comes down and says "this is our future" and spends the next 20 campaigning for more funding for NASA .

    • Re:Not worth it ? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GNious ( 953874 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:46AM (#48292125)

      If it triggers The Overview Effect in just 1-2 gazillionaires, the venture (but not really the death of pilots) is worth it.

      • Re:Not worth it ? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:59AM (#48292161) Homepage

        It is highly unlikely to do that. Does not go high enough, does not stay long enough.

      • Re:Not worth it ? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by The Rizz ( 1319 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @06:08AM (#48292199)

        the venture (but not really the death of pilots) is worth it.

        That's a naive way to look at things. Advancements in flight have always held dangers for the test pilots, and the test pilots know it. They want to risk their lives pushing the envelope - if they didn't, they wouldn't have spent their lives reaching for the job. That's not to say they're doing ti for the danger, but they are doing it for either the adventure of being at the forefront of something new, or out of a sense of wanting to advance the human race.

        The job is dangerous, yes. But so is race car driving, or firefighting, or any number of other jobs. Just because an accident happens at one of them doesn't mean its justifiable to shut down the whole industry. Lessons are learned, safety is improved (hopefully), and things get better.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Why does anyone really care how someone spends his own money?

      If some rich dude decides to blow $100K flying up to the edge of space, why should anyone else really give a rat's ass?

      And if he dies in the doing of the thing, well, that only matters to his heirs and whichever State gets the Estate taxes.

      For that matter, if some average dude saves up his vacation money for a while for a ten-minute thrill ride, that's still noone's business but his....

  • Trees vs. Forest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:49AM (#48291923)
    At one level, what is being said is true. However, at that same level, our space programs were not about space either, but about a dick waving contest with the Russians. Letting rich people experience weightlessness and have a beautiful view is noble by comparison. However, the real question is where does commercial space travel bring potentially bring us, and hopefully that does go far beyond mere tourism for the rich.
  • by rampant mac ( 561036 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:49AM (#48291925)

    [What] Virgin is doing it is not. When various corporate representatives eulogize those two pilots as pioneers who were helping to cross the Final Frontier, that should make you angry. That pilot died not for space but for a luxury service provider. His death doesn't get us closer to Mars; it just keeps rich people further away from weightlessness and a beautiful view.

    "The cost of freedom is always high, but {humanity} have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission. - JFK"

    Seriously? That's like condemning the Titanic sinking and cancelling all travel plans across the oceans. Is it dangerous? Yep. Are people going to die? Yep.

    Keep pushing the envelope.

    ~ Note, changed Americans to humanity in the JFK quote.

    • by Goaway ( 82658 )

      You completely missed the point, there. Titanic served a useful purpose, it transported people across the sea.

      SpaceShipTwo just goes up and falls back down again for a thrill. It's a roller coaster, like the article says.

      If a roller coaster causes a deadly accident and is shut down, do you cry about FREEDOM and PUSHING THE ENVELOPE too?

      • by CurryCamel ( 2265886 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:47AM (#48292127) Journal

        And why is trasporting people so much nobler than giving them a thrill? Why is dying for the cause or 'trasporting people' more acceptable than dying for 'making people's lifes happier'?

        I guess your answer to "what is the meaning of life" is quite opposite to mine.

      • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @09:33AM (#48293137) Homepage

        People die on rollercoasters all the time:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

        Nearly everything you do carries some risk of death with it. That's part of life.

    • Compare TFA with your run-of-the-mill Slashdot troll [slashdot.org] from the other day and try to identify the stark differences.

      Or maybe Poe's Law [wikipedia.org] is in effect and it's the same guy.

  • by Beck_Neard ( 3612467 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:49AM (#48291927)

    It's true that space tourism is no expansion of frontiers, and that the pilot's death was a waste. It's also true that the corporate representatives who try to this spin as such are being incredibly dishonest and callous about human life. BUT let's not forget that the pilots took on this job at their own risk. Whether they were properly informed of the true risks remains a matter of debate, but still, any sane person should have known that this is highly experimental aircraft and there is a significant risk of failure. This does not absolve Virgin Galactic of responsibility, of course. But it's is spaceflight. Shit happens. If we want to make any progress at all, we have to put aside the attitude that no risks are acceptable. If I were a pilot and wanted to ride in an experimental aircraft, I wouldn't want someone telling me that I can't do that. People die doing far less important things. More people die playing football or skiing.

    Look at it this way. The challenger crew died while attempting to heroically... deliver a communications satellite into orbit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org] Was it really that important to get a data relay satellite into orbit? Of course it wasn't. Any criticism you level at Virgin Galactic must also be directed at NASA for the space shuttle. I think that's fair, but at least be consistent in your criticism.

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      Absolutely true. Just because the "average" person wants a nanny state of warning labels and safety devices doesn't mean there are no risks to be taken in life. Kudos to those willing to take those risks. We all benefit in due time from their fearlessness (or what some would call their foolhardiness.)

      Would there even be a US or Canada if Columbus and his peers had been afraid to sail? What if the astronauts of the Apollo program had said "No freakin' way you're sticking me on top of that king sized f

    • Lets put the stated safety into perspective as well. The goal is not to achieve the level of safety offered by a modern jetliner, rather that of commercial aircraft of the 1920s.

      "This vehicle is designed to go into the atmosphere in the worst case straight in or upside down and it'll correct. This is designed to be at least as safe as the early airliners in the 1920s ... Don’t believe anyone that tells you that the safety will be the same as a modern airliner, which has been around for 70 years." -
    • the pilots took on this job at their own risk. Whether they were properly informed of the true risks remains a matter of debate, but still, any sane person should have known that this is highly experimental aircraft and there is a significant risk of failure.

      A note to further clarify:

      Experimental test pilots aren't "any sane person". They are extremely skilled in their task and have deep engineering knowledge on how the systems they test function. That knowledge is paramount because they are expected to diagnose the system operation. This isn't like when grandma got tricked into a high risk ARM during the housing boom. Those pilots might seem crazy to the average joe but they knew EXACTLY what they were getting into and were probably the best people on the p

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That will sound bad only if you think that earning money is somehow anti-life.
    Business is what makes our substenance and quality of life. We are all subsistance farmers without business and profits.

    True that virgin is a space rollercoaster. The comparison is a bit off. You have to consider how many people died in building of actual rollercoasters to have a legit comparison.
    Not everyone on the planet can afford a rollercoaster ride so it is too a toy for the rich.
    Anyways the idea that taking a risk for mone

    • We are all subsistance farmers without business and profits.

      That is 100% true. Before business and profits, 95% of the world's population were farmers. And that is the way it would still be had it not been for business and profits.

  • Similarly, the Internet has done nothing for science or human knowledge, since so much of the work of pushing it and promoting it has been done for profit.

    This isn't people dying so rich people can have fun. This is rich people funding the fundamental research that will make space travel practical in time.

  • by Dan Askme ( 2895283 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:51AM (#48291933) Homepage

    Adam Rodgers (who wrote the article):
    - Was probably a passenger on many planes in his life
    - Drives a car
    - Gets on the train and bus now and again

    All of these daily functions he takes for granted had test pilots and drivers. All of which had people willing to the risk their lives in the hope of making our society evolve and benefit from new technology.
    If these dedicated people didnt push the boundaries and take risks, our lives would be very different today.

    Complete short sighted asshole article, written by a glorified twat.
    Carry on Virgin, Private business or not, we could all benefit from your dedication to space travel in the future. Nothing else to see here.

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )
      But Virgin isn't going anywhere with this project. It just goes up, and then comes back down to the place where you came from. The comparison with planes, trains and automobiles make no sense at all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The comparison is very apt, in their early days, trains, plane and, automobiles were also novelties. As a direct comparison: people used to pay to go just go up, and comb back down again in planes, and, accidents happened, people died.

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )
          Everything was, at some point in time, a novelty. That doesn't mean they are all equally useful. Even if some people took a plane to just go up and down, most people knew they could take a plane to take them from A to B quickly and efficiently. In contrast, the SS2 has been designed only to go from A to A with a short thrill ride in between.
        • by Goaway ( 82658 )

          But rockets that actually go into space are not a novelty. We've had those for over half a century.

          And the SpaceShipTwo can't even do what they can, nor will it ever no matter how much it is developed.

          • You want a better analogy?

            We had planes with props for what... 30 years before someone started to develop the jet engine. Are you saying the jet engine was pointless because we already had the power to fly? No... and the first development articles were less powerful than the props they were aiming to supplant or augment. Some people just had ideas and vision that this was a technology that would go somewhere and they were right.

            Now granted, that was one component and what Scaled Composites is trying to do i

  • Good job wired! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kuzb ( 724081 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:53AM (#48291937)

    You've managed to miss the point yet again, wired.

    First off, test pilots take risks - they know the risks. They know them intimately. Death is always a real possibility with an experimental aircraft. Accidents happen, but I'm sure nobody there was saying "hey wouldn't it be cool if it crashed and everyone DIED?". This op-ed piece is written by a complete douche. Obviously commercial passenger space flight is going to start ridiculously expensive and be out of the reach of joe sixpack - but that's how everything starts. At one point, only the super rich could afford cars, now everyone's got one. We probably won't see affordable trips to space in our lifetime, but maybe my kid will. Or their kid after that. What I do know is that if nobody starts trying to do it, it will never happen.

    Since you can't just buy a ticket to go to space at any price, it IS attempting to pushing boundaries - even if they're not the boundaries he'd like to be pushed.

  • A question then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thej1nx ( 763573 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:53AM (#48291939)

    How many "rich boys" died testing initial aircrafts? or when very early cars were being bought and tested?

    I mean those cars used to be expensive too, for that time? Death of Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier apparently did not get us a single step closer to commercial flights. I mean those guys died too trying to test a toy for the rich folks obviously? Damn them for not banning planes at that time itself. Imagine the problems it would have solved. No 9-11. No hijackings. Right? Damn them!

    Oh wait. People making toys for the rich people, eventually ended up the technology being developed sufficiently enough to become affordable for not-millionaires to own cars and fly once in a while too. We mock the people who called for ban of useless technologies like fast cars(the first fatal car-accident reported the car as traveling at "reckless speed of 8miles/hour") and yet remain blind enough to fall for the same nonsense today.

    Orbital flights mean even faster travel. Two-three hundred years ago, it was unthinkable for you to "walk" 20-30 kilometers every day to work(Hint. It took all day on a good horse). Today with cars, you don't think twice about it. Think of being able to reach Europe from America eventually within an hour, after say 30-50 years.

    Of course if you are the type yearning for "simple times when world was not a small place" (and I don't say there is anything wrong with that either) you may not see this as being useful. Like the early humans hated the wheel for complicating the world. But on other hand, lots of us find it very useful to travel long distances in a short time. All technologies were initially affordable usually only by the rich however. And people did die during the course of perfecting a lot of it. The Wired article was written by an idiot.

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      Orbital flights mean even faster travel.

      Using a rocket is a very expensive way for fast travel. Air breathing supersonic would make a lot more sense, and after Concorde's failure, nobody's even interested in pursuing that. If you also add in the extra time for check-in, security, travel to/from airport, waiting time due to limited flight schedule, the actual time saved is not worth paying orders of magnitude more.

      • by thej1nx ( 763573 )

        So considering that it takes you nearly a day to travel to the other side of the world(you STILL have check-in and all that stuff), you are seriously suggesting that you would prefer traveling for 32 hours instead of just say, 4 hours(with check-in and all that stuff)? Well, masochism has its appeals I guess, for some folks.

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )
          No, you forgot the part about the price. If the 4 hours travel time would cost me 1000 times as much, the 32 hours sounds a lot better.
  • Liquid fuels (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:58AM (#48291955) Homepage Journal

    I looks like the hybrid solid/liquid engine isn't going to push SS2 to 100km altitude. The original compound ran rough and it doesn't have a high enough specific impulse. The new compound explodes. Dick Rutan demonstrated a Long-EZ equipped with a liquid fueled [xcor.com] engine in 2001. I think it is time to go back to XCOR and ask about a bigger engine.

  • If rich people had not started going on vacation trips in the 19th century, nobody would be going on vacation trips now.

    Space tourism is a much better motivation for rocket launches than country/ideology X trying to get an advantage over country/ideology Y.
    • by itzly ( 3699663 )
      Bullshit, of course. Travel is mainly driven by business interests, not vacation trips. What's the business interest in sub-orbital hops ?
  • summary was enough, just a pansy whiner blabbering about how life is precious, think of the children waa waaa.

    Please nobody tell this guy how many people died building the Empire State Building. He might spontaneously combust. And no, Empire State Building didn't get us to Mars or expand human frontiers, just some rich real estate investors making money.

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      Please nobody tell this guy how many people died building the Empire State Building

      According to records: 5 people died in the construction of the Empire State Building, and the result was a huge amount of office space in a highly desirable location. Not a bad score compared to ScaledComposites with 4 deaths for a rollercoaster ride.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:14AM (#48291991)

    ... That is for the pilots and space tourists to decide. Not you.

    They know rockets blow up sometimes. We all know that. We've seen the challenger rocket go up in flames. We've seen many others go up as well.

    It is always very sad. But despite that... when they say "we're going again" more people sign up to go then they have rockets to send.




    Is it the money? What money? Astronauts don't make much more money. Not enough to cover the risk. They go because they are going into space. They go because they BELIEVE it is important.

    You say "space tourism" like it is unworthy or dirty. Its space. And every time we send something up there we get better at it. Every time we learn a little something. We get more comfortable doing it. And we think "what else might we do up there?"

    It is as beautiful as it is vital.

    And this writer is a disgrace to the publication for which he writes.

    "wired"? This is what we can expect from a publication that presumes to be farseeing into technology and science?

    Maybe you should just complete the fashion mag transition and slap some models in mascara on the cover and talk about which color is in fashion this year. If this is really how you feel then you're done.

  • Anything can kill (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:16AM (#48292007) Journal
    By going for a pleasurable drive, I will statistically kill something like a 10 millionth of a person. Should we therefore stop driving for pleasure? industrial accidents and shipping cause deaths. All for things that we can, in many cases, do without. Even constructing roller coasters, there's a risk of falling or being injured by faulty equipment. Do we want to put a stop to all of these?

    It's tragic when people die but if we can't accept the risk of death at any price, we can't live.
  • And actually please let Richard play with his billions of dollars and live his dream because this stimulates economy

    Other than he would make millisecond trades to catch another 100 millions during the flapping of a butterfly before driving - with all those microsecond crazy stock exchange markets and all FPGA & F# fueled robotbuyers sellers - the the world economy into ruin because nobody anymore knows whom it lend money, where it owed money and perhaps if you lend and owe money to others that you are r

  • The test pilots/engineers didn't risk life and limb to make more money for Richard Branson. Michael Alsbury died and Peter Siebold was injured in a regretable accident doing what THEY wanted to do. THEY got to try flying to space, and, even if VG never gets to the point of vacuuming money from those looking for a thrill and wealthy enough to pay Branon for it, the crew got to make the trip, knowing that, as with many ambitious enterprises, sometimes the bear gets you.

  • Why not Fugu? [wikipedia.org] That would like a much more apt food analogy to me. ;-)
  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:33AM (#48292081)
    The pilots knew the score. If the risk was worth it to the people who were actually taking it, then I don't see how it's anybody else's business.
  • Everest (Score:4, Insightful)

    by countach ( 534280 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:51AM (#48292133)

    Yes it's stupid.... but its no more stupid than all the stupid idiots who climb everest at significant expense.... a significant number of which never come back.

  • by yankeessuck ( 644423 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:58AM (#48292153)
    The entire argument is that Virgin Galactic doesn't push the boundaries so it's not worth doing and that is a huge steaming pile of BS. Why should astronauts be the only ones able to go to space? Wouldn't it be great if someday we could have safe and affordable suborbital flights available to ordinary people? Is there seriously really no value in achieving that goal? I'm actually thrilled a bunch of millionaires are ok with subsidizing this research and experiments.
  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @06:26AM (#48292245)

    So, space travel isn't worth dying over, huh?

    Statistically speaking, one of the most dangerous things quite a lot of humans do every single day is step inside a car.

    I suppose putting your life on the line for that shitty job you bitch about all the time is somehow totally worth it by comparison, right?

    But hey, maybe I'm being too harsh. We should just be careful not not do a damn thing that might be dangerous. I mean, sitting around waiting for a random asteroid to wipe out all life on this little blue planet...what's the worst that could happen?

  • by bkmoore ( 1910118 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @06:29AM (#48292255)
    "...that to me is a bunch of crap trying to shoot guys up into damned space. What they're going to do is they're going to wipe out half a dozen (people) one of these days, and that will be the end of it."
  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) <hackertourist@x[ ]et.nl ['msn' in gap]> on Sunday November 02, 2014 @07:11AM (#48292353)

    no death is acceptable pursuing leasure activities. We should ban mountain climbing, parachute jumping, diving, all non-commercial travel including driving, and need I go on?

    (tagged: drivel)

  • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @07:15AM (#48292363) Homepage Journal

    First, anything the 1% wants to do that involves passing money around between them, rather than picking the pockets of everyone else, is their business. That's not to say we should let them externalize costs onto us -- if parts of it are falling on populated areas, that's not cool. If hydrazine is getting into the water table, or even poisoning an unmonitored (but still important) patch of ocean, that's not cool either. But billionaires spending money for a chance so see the edge of space? Fuck it, let them.

    Also, what is acceptable risk to you, isn't to everyone else. Anyone who flies an "experimental craft" is at a substantially greater risk of dying than the average person. So long as the risk is theirs, again, let them. They know the risks, and do it anyhow. Some of them are old and have a bucket list, and don't think the risk is all that substantial in light of the fact that they're mortal regardless.

    Lining Branson's pockets isn't my idea of a good time, but it's not my decision whether others want to.

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @07:45AM (#48292525)

    But a lot of people died to bring aviation to the point where your flights were safe and cheap.

  • by Amy Kono ( 3836839 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @08:00AM (#48292607)
    Does this author believe nothing should ever be done unless it furthers mankind'd foray into the future as long as someone might die? Many people die in the cultivation of foods that are not necessary for survival, the manufacture of items that aren't earth-shattering, and the testing of new technologies that don't blow your mind. History is rife with examples of casualties. I'm not saying the deaths are deserves, but merely exist as an inescapable part of creating something new.
  • by operator_error ( 1363139 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @08:33AM (#48292781)

    How many people died in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge?

    Eleven, although until February 17, 1937, there had been only one fatality, setting a new all-time record in a field where one man killed for every million dollars spent had been the norm. On February 17, ten more men lost their lives when a section of scaffold carrying twelve men fell through the safety net.

    http://goldengatebridge.org/re... [goldengatebridge.org]

    In other Googling I found an average of 120 people commit suicide annually on that bridge.

    Should the bridge go away now?

    Now that's one way to look at the question of whether or not a space tourism endeavor is worthwhile. Personally I think the environmental impact, vs. For Who and For What Purpose is a major issue. To me those are just incredibly wealthy people looking for fun ways to spend their money. This isn't like trans-Atlantic air travel in the 20th Century, which actually had a clearly demonstrable economic and societal purpose.

    On the other hand, I can well believe nothing would have stopped those gentlemen under similar conditions from trying again. This is what they did as a career for-life, and economically speaking, they had a good employer and seeming economic benefit to do what they did.

    Full disclosure: I am only a software guy. I try to do backups, but am only so-so there.

Science is to computer science as hydrodynamics is to plumbing.