Daily Archives: July 30th, 2008

Interstellar Betting, ‘The White Knight’ and Lunar Agreements

Time to take a break from the tinfoil conspiracy thing today to post some space science, mainly interstellar issues and future plans for star probes. Paul Gilster over at Centauri Dreams posted this piece Monday:

Tibor Pacher has gone out on a limb. The founder of peregrinus interstellar and an active supporter of interstellar research, the Heidelberg-trained physicist (now a freelance software consultant) has made a wager on the Long Bets site that should raise eyebrows: “The first true interstellar mission, targeted at the closest star to the Sun or even farther, will be launched before or on December 6, 2025 and will be widely supported by the public.” Note that no crew is assumed, the vehicle presumably being an unmanned flyby probe. We must also assume it will be targeted at the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Even so, to pull off the attempt in a mere seventeen years?

But my friend Tibor is a gadfly as well as an optimist. He knows as well as anyone that the time frame is outrageous, but he wants to inspire discussion and keep people thinking about interstellar issues. In the same spirit, he notes the motivations that exist, from the challenge of a seemingly impossible destination to fears about the future and the need to ensure the survival of our species. All of which is true, but I find the challenge of Tibor’s bet irresistible, and have wagered $500 on the Long Bets site that he is wrong. The proceeds would go to the Tau Zero Foundation, so both Tibor and I can win. Come on, Tibor, take the bet.

I’m not a betting man either, but I think it’s fairly safe to assume no interstellar probes will be launched by 2025. But you never know, some rich people like Branson or Elon Musk could wager each other which one would fund and build one first!

Betting On An Interstellar Future


Speaking of Richard Branson, the unveiling of WhiteKnightTwo took place Monday. He named the plane “Eve”, after his mother:

British tycoon Richard Branson on Monday unveiled a futuristic aircraft that will ferry tourists to the edge of the heavens as part of Virgin Galactic’s much-anticipated space program.

The aircraft — WhiteKnightTwo — was rolled out for media and invited guests, including Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, at an early morning ceremony in the Mojave desert north of Los Angeles.

The high-altitude aircraft, also named “Eve” in honor of Branson’s mother, will act as the mothership for the spacecraft Spaceship Two, which in turn will launch in midair and send two crew and six passengers hurtling into space.

The first flights of WhiteKnightTwo are expected to take place later this year, with Spaceship Two being attached for a maiden flight sometime in 2009.

Virgin Galactic is hoping to send its first paying customers into suborbital space some 110 kilometers (70 miles) above the earth in 2010. The company has said more that more than 200 passengers have already signed up for the first flights, which will cost 200,000 dollars each.

Some of my friends say this won’t last long because there’s only so many millionaires and eventually Branson will run out of customers. I think maybe after the initial fervor dies down, he might see a drop, but it’ll level out because the price will likely to come down as the technology matures. And as he says, they’ll eventually build ships that are space capable and do orbital work like servicing satellites, or placing new ones into orbit.

People are watching this closely.

Branson unveils space tourism craft ‘WhiteKnightTwo’.


Lastly, it looks like some of the Earth’s ‘kids’ would like to play in the sandbox (okay, regolith for you purists) of the Moon together:

India, along with seven other countries, has signed a landmark agreement with the United States to carry out lunar exploration. The agreement was signed at American space agency NASA’s Ames Research Centre here this week and it would be formally announced on Tuesday.Apart from India, the countries which signed the pact with the US are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea.

The agreement, which lays the groundwork for a new generation of lunar exploration, will see a multinational fleet of robot spacecraft returning to the moon in coming years, with countries like India, Germany and South Korea playing key roles, the San Jose Mercury News has reported.

It also allows NASA to share costs. While the United States has budgeted money for four lunar spacecrafts, scientists want it up to eight landers on the surface.

Cost sharing is the big thing here, especially with the US. The next US president is rumored to likely cut funding for the Moon and Mars initiatives because of the deficits caused by the War on Terra. At least this way, some Moon exploration gets done.

Maybe by that time Branson, Musk or even Google will have a Lunar hotel set up!

Multinational Agreement Signed To Carry Out Lunar Exploration