ANU Reporter | 16 August 2008
ONE OF THE first Australian space tourists in waiting says humanity is about to enter a “golden age” of sub-orbital travel, which could lead to innovations for space-based habitats and power stations.
COSMOS magazine editor-in-chief Wilson da Silva will hurtle 160km above the planet as one of the first 100 people to leave the Earth’s atmosphere aboard commercial space flights, due to begin in late 2009.
Speaking during National Science Week at ANU, the science journalist said he would fulfil a childhood dream when he and five other sight-seers spend 15 minutes floating in space aboard a Virgin Galactic craft.
“To look down on the world, and know that everyone I’ve ever met or everyone I’ve read about is down there, that will be something special,” he said.
Da Silva will be a passenger on SpaceShipTwo, a sleek gliding rocket that is carried into the upper atmosphere by a mother ship, called WhiteKnightTwo, before detaching and blasting into sub-orbital space.
He predicted that humanity was about to enter an age of inexpensive sub-orbital travel, which would slash international transit times.
By skimming above the “thick pea soup” of the planet’s atmosphere in the vacuum of space, Da Silva said that aircraft could move at incredible speeds, while also expending far less energy and fuel. A trip from Sydney to London could be as short as three hours, he said.
In addition to cutting travel times, da Silva said that the push to commercialise sub-orbital travel and orbital tourism could lead to rapid technological advances.
He said one possible consequence might be the development of solar-generating satellites that could gather power in the perpetual sunlight of space.
Another possibility involved artificial human habitats floating in the gravitational midpoint between the Earth and its moon.
Da Silva’s voyage is being funded by ANU alumnus Dr Alan Finkel, the neuroscientist and philanthropist with whom he set up COSMOS.