The New York Times December 31, 2006
Like All Else, Space Exploration Goes Global
By John Schwartz
THE skies could get crowded in 2007. This time around it’s not just a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. New countries, and some rich people, will make it more of a space roller derby.
Expect developments from China, which has planned an orbital flight and spacewalk for 2007, and India, which has scheduled an unmanned lunar mission for next year. Both nations are hungry for the kind of international science cred that comes with being a spacefaring nation.
Things are heating up even more on the private side of the space game. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has said it will be testing vehicles in 2007 that eventually will take well-heeled tourists to suborbital space. So will Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, at the West Texas launch site of his secretive company, Blue Origin.
Lesser-known companies like XCOR Aerospace, Aera Corp, Armadillo Aerospace, PlanetSpace and Rocketplane-Kistler are also hustling to get vehicles up and running. Robert Bigelow, the founder of Budget Suites of America, is likely to push forward with his goal of putting a hotel in orbit by 2010.
At NASA, the year will be devoted to a series of complex shuttle missions to continue building the International Space Station, which the Bush administration has aimed to complete by 2010, the same year the shuttle program will be wound down. For most people, the 2007 missions are likely to seem like more of the same: construction, wiring and the kind of handyman work that are giving NASA TV (www.nasa.gov/ntv) the feel of an orbital “Tool Time.”
John E. Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, an organization that monitors defense and space operations, said, “The paradox of the space program has been to make extraordinarily difficult things look easy, and to make really exciting things boring.”
© Copyright 2006, The New York Times Company