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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Link from the Telegraph here.
Tourists will soon be able to fly 60 miles into space to see the curve of the Earth and experience weightlessness from a launch pad being built in Singapore, it has emerged.

The venture is organised by Space Adventures, the US firm that sent the world's first space tourists on Russian craft to the International Space Station for week-long visits....Passengers can expect to pay about £59,000 for each sub-orbital flight.

The initiative, which will be formally announced on Monday, will ignite a space race with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is building a spaceport in the US state of New Mexico.

Both companies plan to fly their first commercial passengers within three years.

Both companies' spacecraft will be lifted to around 50,000ft by conventional planes. Solid fuel rockets will then take them to an altitude of 62 miles - 12 miles beyond the edge of space - where they will experience four minutes of weightlessness.
....... Branson promises to send tourists into space by 2007

Now this isn't the same as orbital flight it is just up & down. Nonetheless it is a significant step that way. Firstly lets congratulate the Singaporeans. Here we have a small country (4 million people & 60 miles diamater) which should, by all the rules be a poor struggling 3rd world country & is instead a progressive 1st world nation that happens to be located in the 3rd world & is a world leader in high technology such as bio-tech & now the space race. They have done this by having leaders who supported free enterprise & high technology - things they learned from Britain in the first place.

This shows that, starting from where we were, we could hav gone so much farther (my bet would be the orbit of Pluto) had we but lived up to our history. It also shows that the future does not lie only, or even particularly, in the hands of the of the big players. This is a country smaller than Scotland which has merely welcomed innovaters. I recently did a post here on X-Prizes as a way of encouraging the space effort - you can find it in the search facility here.

In 2001 the Scot Lib Dems asked around constituencies for a "blue skies" idea that would make an innovative conference debate without committing themselves to anything expensive & I suggested they offer a £20 million X-Prize amortised over 49 years for the first Scottish vehicle to soft land on an asteroid. Part of the point of such a prize is that it costs nothing if it doesn't work & in either case is likely to get satelite manufactuers considering setting up here. I doubt if anybody in the party but I had, at the time, heard of X-Prizes & the result was only marginally more contemptous than I expected. In about 20 years time I expect our political leaders will be explaining why it was inevitable that the East Asians colonised the universe while we became a 3rd world nation. I wish them good luck - if we are unable to do anything far better that somebody is.

Singapore does have a major unearned technical advantage over us - they are on the equator. Since the Earth spins fastest there it provides rockets with extra speed (which is why Cape Canaveral is in Florida & Baikonur in Kazakhstan). This is going to be a much greater advantage at some time in the next generation. The invention of the Buckeytube (an infinitely extensible tube version of the carbon Buckyball molecule) now makes it theoretically possible to build a Space Elevator. In practice it is at least a generation away but since it will make the marginal cost of transport to geostationary Earth orbit as cheap as a train journey & as regular the incentive is great. Since geostationary orbits are only possible directly above the equator the first equatorial city to build one will be the gateway to the universe.

the first equatorial city to build one will be the gateway to the universe.


It is possible you are right, and the bit quoted above has a nice poetical ring to it. I do think that while space elevators are cool and all that jazz they won't be quite economic choke-point people might imagine.

Anyone can build one. Granted the first entity to do so will have an incredible cost advantage but cost is not always a determing factor, if (say) national prestige is at stake.

You can build them anwhere on the equator. We think that basing them at sea would be optimal or at least possible. Singapore is ideally placed of course but a number of other ports and countries are reasonable as well.
You are probably right - the 2nd space elevator should be cheaper to build than the first since the bugs would be worked out. On the other hand Singapore itself has such a competitive history that if they get ahead in the game I wouldn't envy competitors. You will gather I admire the Singaporeans - had they not worked at it they would be Sri Lanka except smaller, poorer & less peaceful.

If a small elevator was built would it be cheaper to expand it than build another elsewhere?
since the bugs would be worked out

Bugs and a fair bit of the cost is capital to get the seed ribbon to orbit. You can use the first SE to loft the material for the second.

If a small elevator was built would it be cheaper to expand it than build another elsewhere?

A precise answer requires information about techniques that we're working on. The way to bet is that adding taper and strength to an existing ribbon is cheaper than building elsewhere. But stay tuned.
While there is a case for racial differences in IQ - that Jews & Polynesians, both of whom have had about 1500 years of intense evolutionary pressure, on average outperform orientals, who outperform Indo Europeans, who outperform Negros - I would not take it to far.

There is a better case for the difference being largely made up from education, intellectual stimulus & childhood nutrition. The example of the Afrikaans who, graduating from farmers to the dominant role in society also showed increasd IQ is indicative.

The point about Singapore being more peacful than Sri Lanka was because their population is even more ethnicly diffuse, with a Chinese majority but also Malay & largely Tamil speaking Indians.The latter being from a similar genetic pool as Sri Lankans.

I would reccommend Lee Kuan Yew's autobiography From 3rd World to 1st to you or anybody who wants to see competent government in action. He shares your views about IQ (I don't think he is very interested in political correctness) but was quite dismissive of Singapore's Chinese on the grounds that they are descended from southern Chinese peasants whereas the mandarin class stayed home.

Personally I think that, with the possible exception of Jews & Polynesians, other cultural factors, including luck, are more important else Columbas & Isaac Newton would have been oriental.

Asked to stretch I would point out that the biggest skulls on record are 25,000 year old Cro-Magnon & Neanderthal ones (they also lived under evolutionary pressure) & that we may all have been going downhill ever since.
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