The Sunday Canberra Times | 17 August 2008
By Emily Sherlock
IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT future you could fly from Sydney to London and the trip would take three hours about the length of a decent in-flight movie or the time taken to check-in. Add a few more years and you could honeymoon in hotels in zero-gravity or take a holiday to the moon.
These are some of the possibilities COSMOS magazine editor-in-chief Wilson da Silva predicts will be born out of advancements in space travel, and it will happen sooner than many might think.
Speaking to the Sunday Canberra Times in the lead-up to a talk at the Australian National University on Friday as part of National Science Week, da Silva said we were on the cusp of a new era in travel with the next 20 years likely to see a boom in the development of high frontier space. It would be led by joy flights into sub-orbital space before more ‘useful’ flights to other destinations in the world were created.
This would be followed by advancements in orbital travel which if demand was there would lead to development such as hotels in space. Like the boom and advancement in aviation in the 1920s it would again be driven by the private sector. “I reckon 15 years will see us flying from Sydney to London in three hours,” he said.
“Currently it takes 24 hours ... but if you get out of the atmosphere there is no resistance, nothing to push against you – it is a vacuum. [And] we won’t be pushing through 24 hours’ worth of jet fuel through the atmosphere”.
“Currently it takes 24 hours even with our best planes ... but if you get out of the atmosphere there is no resistance, nothing to push against you – it is a vacuum.” Such travel also had environmental benefits as “we won’t be pushing through 24 hours’ worth of jet fuel through the atmosphere”.
It could also see a rebirth in the environmental movement as people saw the fragility of Earth from space. Countries are working on developing such technology, but Australia is being left behind. He said more investment was urgently needed and was ‘embarrassed’ when he attended the recent Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona and Australia was not represented.
“Singapore is the size of the greater Sydney economy, and yet it had a serious presence there and was taking part in the program. We need to seriously think about investing in our scientists and be aggressive about it, and be aggressive about space,” he said.
Da Silva will be one of the first Australians to take a sub-orbital flight aboard British billionaire Richard Branson’s commercial space-liner Virgin Galactic. ANU alumnus, neuroscientist and philanthropist Alan Finkel is picking up da Silva’s tab thought to be about $200,000.
Da Silva expected to take the trip within the next two years and said it was something he had always wanted to do. “It has been a childhood dream since I was a kid, seven or eight- years-old, lying on the grass in Sydney looking up at the stars and fantasising about exploring the outer planets.”