Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Over the weekend I was bemoaning to Jill that I'd never make it into space, despite my assumption as a child that lots of us would be going up there by now. As if I don't have real problems to gripe about, but what timing, huh? Yesterday the first privately funded spacecraft from Scaled Composites made it up into space by 400 feet, flown by Mike Melvill, a 63 year old pilot. So suddenly in two days my odds got a lot better.
The craft, Spaceship One, looks a lot like those little styrofoam gliders I threw around as a kid. It was designed by Burt Rutan, the man who brought us Voyager, the plane that circled the world nonstop in 1986. Rutan is kind of the modern Werner Von Braun, but without the troublesome Nazi past. The carrot dangled is the X-Prize, $10 million to the first private spacecraft maker who satisfies all the criteria, not that Rutan or funder Paul Allen need the motivation, they've already spent $20 million on the goal. Now NASA is even talking about offering cash prizes for paradigm-shift thinking that they can use. It's only a matter of time before zillionaire adventurers Richard Branson and Steve Fossett try to get in on this. But when I heard the news I couldn't help but think of someone who would have been following this if he were alive...
I don't think anyone wanted into space as badly as John Denver, even John Glenn, who wanted to get back into space so much that he pretended to like politics and devoted years to public service in the Senate until he finally managed to get himself a seat on the Shuttle. Denver was vying for that too-- he trained and took an Astronaut physical at the Johnson Space Center, and was one of the prime candidates for being NASA's first "citizen" in space. That role of course went to Christa McAuliffe. The Challenger explosion didn't dissuade Denver though, who then campaigned to go up to Soviet station Mir. Ultimately the Russians tried to charge him $10 million (there's that figure again) and demanded that he become fluent in Russian, and that dream ended. And of course, he died flying an experimental plane. Still, he had a full life; he somehow had national hits with country-folk songs, made a couple of movies with George Burns, drove a cool old Porsche and guest hosted the Muppet Show more than anyone else. I like that he assumed he could be involved with any enterprise he wanted to, that's the way to be. The title of this blog entry, by the way, is a line from "Czar", Frank Black's song about John Denver- here's the guitar tabs for it. Whew, got through another day without talking about the Charlotte show.