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Capitalism Soaring Into The Heavens
Six and a half hours of crazy night driving south through the central valley and up into the high desert North-East of Los Angeles, and we arrive at the Mojave, CA airport, in just one of thousands of cars arriving. The highway is already getting significantly backed up as the cars try to get into the two lane entrance. Itís 4:30 AM on Monday, June 21, date of the launch of the first civilian spacecraft.
At $10 per car and $40 per RV, we try to estimate how much theyíre making on parking. The RV lot stretches out farther than we can see from the few floodlights. I guess maybe $50,000. Phil thinks that after everyone arrives, they might take in a quarter million. It doesnít matter. The two parking lots are vast rectangles of desert, with water trucks moving back and forth spraying to keep down the dust even at 4:30 in the morning. Mojave is almost 3000 feet above sea level, and the wind is supposedly always blowing.
We decide to sleep a bit in the car before the launch. Phil sets an alarm on his cell-phone, but itís getting intermittent service, and will shut off if it loses service for 15 minutes in a row. There are people milling about in the filling parking area. Most are headed off to the runway already, camping chairs in hand, to stake out spots. A kid is playing catch with his father, and some people in a van a few cars down are on the roof with a telescope. I decide not to sleep because I donít want to chance missing the launch.
Dawn is the calmest time, which is why the launch is scheduled for 6:30 am. We leave the car at 5:45 to head over and see whatís what. The sky is getting lighter, but the sun is not yet up. The air is somewhat warm, but the persistent wind makes it a little chilly.
The airfield seems to consist mainly of two big runways at an almost 90 degree angle, some big hangers off in the distance and scores of 747s and similar large jets abandoned, stored, being repaired, or being cannibalized. We canít tell. The crowd is confined to a section between the outside edges of the two runways away from the hangers and all the planes, and stretches out so far along the main runway that I canít distinguish the individual people in the distance. There are clearly a lot of people here, but theyíre very spread out. We find a spot thatís a little raised so we can see above most of the other spectators.
Most of the people attending are fairly normal. There are a good number of kids and dogs on leashes. There is a Libertarian delegation, wearing T-shirts and displaying signs about no government in space, etc. There are a few people wearing custom alien costumes and t-shirts. There are a lot of binoculars and video cameras on tripods.
At 6:30, the PA comes online. Itís almost impossible to hear over the people and the wind. For a while, most people donít even realize anything is happening. Itís the usual welcome stuff, and an interesting note that we are not here to see an air show. No tricks, no planes flying upside down (hopefully), no wing-walking. We can expect to see chase planes taking off, White Knight and Spaceship One taking off, a long ascent, a rocket burn, and the ships landing. Sounds good to me.
First a single prop Cessna type plane takes off - the low-altitude chase plane - followed by a cool, swept-wing double-pushing prop plane Ė the medium altitude chase plane. They climb in circles for a while, gaining altitude. Finally White Knight (the mothership) with Spaceship One attached come rolling out. Everyone whoops and applauses. This is why weíre here. White Knight taxies to the end of the runway to our right and is lost behind the multitudes. It comes screaming back into view as it charges down the runway, powered by two jet engines mounted on top of it, and lifts gently into the air. This time, the people really go nuts.
White Knight and the chase planes circle around and around in an upward spiral. After a while, a gray jet that looks like a fighter plane takes off as the high altitude chase plane. We generally watch White Knight, but whenever it gets near the sun in the east, the sky is too white, and we lose it. Once it circles back towards the deeper blue sky in the west, we can usually find it again. But as it gets higher, it becomes harder to see, until we absolutely canít find it anymore.
But the White Knight reaches contrail altitude, and we can once again see its path and that of the medium-range chase plane following it. It spirals up and up, and heads east, where the airspace is cleared ďall the way up to the moon,Ē according to the PA.
Itís time for ignition. The PA warms up and we strain to see. White Knight has gone so far east that it now appears much lower on the horizon. The sun is about 30 degrees up from the ground, and the contrails are halfway between the sun and the ground. Suddenly, the contrail of White Knight disappears. A few seconds later, a new contrail appears, much thicker, though still white, going straight up towards the sun. It curves a bit, but it is going fast. In 60 seconds, the rocket blast goes seemingly through the sun and straight up to about 80 degrees up off the horizon. I donít know if the PA announcer said that they had ignition or not. There was too much cheering going on.
And more cheering when the PA announced that Spaceship One had reached its goal of 100 km, officially outer space; and more cheering later when we could see it coming down, seemingly intertwining with all three chase planes; and a lot more cheering when it landed.
While this individual spacecraft and this individual flight might not be much compared to the Space Shuttle or huge Atlas rockets, I was cheering private enterprise and profit. Spaceship One to the Space Shuttle is like the Empire State Building to the Pyramids. Both buildings are impressive, but the Pyramids were built upon the backs of thousands of slaves, at the direction of government, for the glorification of government, and there were few that followed. The Empire State Building was made for profit Ė for the creation of value Ė it was made by people willingly because they thought building it would make their lives better. The Empire State Building is one among many thousands of skyscrapers now, because each one makes a profit and thus makes the world a better place. I wasnít just cheering for the little sub-orbital Spaceship One. I was cheering madly and wildly and to tears for that fleet of for-profit spaceships that are sure to follow, each making their owners and the world and humanity better off. I was cheering for the obsolescence of billion dollar inferior government spacecraft, and the new age of commercial spaceflight. I was cheering for capitalism raised to the highest height: outer space.
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