What if you lived a hundred years ago and wanted to buy a horse that would carry your entire family, travel at 70 miles per hour for 400 miles without needing to be fed more than once a day. And then, get up and do the same thing again for days on end while playing your favorite music in surround sound?
To someone in 1905 that was using a mule team to harvest crops such an animal would probably seem beyond good reason. They wouldn't have knowledge of an interstate highway system much less a production line automobile. Yet today such a minivan is common place.
We have come a long way in the last century. Where are we headed next and what can be built to take us there?
Currently Virgin Galactic, one of the leading potential space tourism groups, is planning to have passenger service on its first spaceship, the VSS Enterprise, with the inaugural launch in 2008 and main flights beginning in 2009. The spaceships used will go 360,000 feet (109.73 km, or 68.18 miles) high; this goes beyond the height of 100 km, which is the internationally defined boundary between Earth and space. Space flights will last 2.5 hours, carry 6 passengers, and reach a speed of Mach 3. Think of a minivan built around a rocket engine. This may sound like something new. To me though it isn't as much of a reach as trying to convince someone in 1910 that in just 59 years the US would send someone to our moon and then safely return them to Earth.
After getting your family to space however, where would you stay? Bigelow Aerospace is a space technology company that is pioneering work on expandable space station modules. An expandable module is a space structure that has a flexible outer shell, allowing conservation of diameter for launch and weight overall. Once in orbit, the module is inflated to allow for greater work, play and living area for astronauts. Expandable modules initially were proposed and designed by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the Transhab program. After cancellation of the Transhab program by NASA, Bigelow Aerospace entered into three Space Act agreements whereby Bigelow Aerospace is the sole commercializer of several of NASA's key expandable module technologies. I wonder what the hotel would be called though; the Ritz Trampolinium?
Currently most of the research into personal space flight is sub-orbital or near-orbital in design so you wouldn't be able to travel to the moon...yet. But there are several private companies that are working on the issue. Someday you may be able to describe to your grandchildren what is was like the first time you saw the curvature of the Earth from space only to have them roll their eyes and explain they did that last year on a Earth Scouts trip.