Sputnik and SpaceShipOne

On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union started the space race among national governments.

On this same day, today, in 2004, SpaceShipOne won $10 million X Prize and started the space race among private organizations.

Great going, guys, let’s hope you are the first of many. ๐Ÿ™‚


R. A. Heinlein first wrote about private space travel (specifically in opposition to government-managed programs) in his short story The Man Who Sold The Moon. (Incidentally, that story is as much about project management as it is about space travel; Fred Brooks quotes it in chapter 7 of The Mythical Man Month).

There is a more recent author who approaches the same topic. Michael Flynn, in his novel Firestar, writes about a return to orbit through commercial venture. He specifically details the educational culture and requirements necessary to produce people who are capable of building, maintaining, and extending an organization dedicated to spaceflight. It’s rocket science, after all, and if we’re going to get well-educated people in a short enough time then we need their education to be much better in a short amount of time.

In the novel, Flynn posits that the space-travel corporation owns charter schools as one of its sub-enterprises. The schools provide top-notch education; the students are fed a steady diet of achievement orientation, how to approach problem-solving through experiment and results-testing, and modern life-management skills (such as personal finance; i.e., how to budget and balance a checkbook). Testing is by written essay only. The teachers themselves take over the administrative tasks of the school. All students stay “after” school for a two-hour tutoring, mentoring, and peer-review study hall in order to finish their homework (this helps to alleviate the “parental involvement” issue — as a premium is put on actually learning, being able to help other students makes “being smart and helpful” more valuable as social captial).

Is that a pipe dream? Probably. But it’s something to shoot for — espeically if we are shooting for orbit, or the Moon, or Mars … or Jupiter. ๐Ÿ™‚