SpaceShot, Inc. has an ambitious vision of the future including prizes with lunar stays and lunar homesteads. Will space some day be accessible to average consumers? (credit: David Robinson, courtesy of Space-Shot.com)
by Sam Dinkin
Monday, May 1, 2006
Tomorrow, SpaceShot, Inc. enters its second month of operations. While I learn to be “P. T. Barnum”, as one of the people at the Space Access conference told me to be, I will provide a monthly retrospective of an insider’s view of building Space-Shot.com.
You shall see the Stars belong to the People
In November 2005, right around the time I was putting out my second press release and my second letter to the mailing list that was gathered by Rocketplane at Countdown to X Prize Cup and via our initial brochure-ware site, I spoke to Mike Lavigne, SpaceShot, Inc.’s public relations consultant. I said, “Mike, we need a Latin motto.”
He said, “I know a Latin major. Let me see what I can do.”
In the mean time, I fiddled with various Latin translation tools such as Notre Dame’s translator including an old DOS one and came up with “Astrae Popularetis”. One translation seemed to be “You shall see the Stars belong to the People”. I passed it on to Mike to check with the Latin major. I also went to a dinner party hosted by a Latin scholar. She said, “there are many translations and you would really need to see it in context.” That sounded like about as good an endorsement as I was ever going to get so I went with it. Mike’s Latin major confirmed that analysis. Mike said he wanted to see me use it more often.
You shall see the Stars devastated, totally despoiled
Another reasonable definition of “populare” is devastation and ruin. This bothered me at first. But then I thought that we have this second meaning in English too. When a restaurant gets “too popular” the regulars think it’s spoiled. Making space “too popular” is certainly a goal of SpaceShot, Inc., but not a near-term one. We need to have happy vendors who want to do business with both us and their well-heeled customers who can afford $200,000. In December 2005, The Economist printed that the “list of new ways to get noticed by the masses is shrinking fast. Even space tourism—impressive in 2001, when Dennis Tito paid Russia $20m to visit the International Space Station—will soon be humdrum.” I felt validated that I was not the only one expecting space to become a more accessible place. They were probably referring to the factor of 100 drop in the entry price from $20 million to $200,000, not the additional factor of 50,000 to get to $3.50 for the hope of a flight.
One thing I cannot do is undermine the value of flights for my fulfillment vendor. Rocketplane wants to sell full-price flights. If I allow winners of Space-Shot.com’s grand prize to sell their flight, few, if any, winners would fly and Rocketplane would face downward pressure on their retail price. For that reason, we will not have the spaceflight be transferable. (We do allow one person to register and give their username and password to someone else who is better at predicting the weather or richer or likes to play but probably won’t pass medical.) This would allow a player to play for someone else. It would not allow a player to win first and then sell the flight. Even losing on purpose would be very hard to achieve. A player willing to lose in the finals on purpose would need to find someone who has $150,000 to buy an entry in the finals to lose to. Since we have a cash alternative prize of $150,000, it would be unlikely that a player would give up their shot at winning it for a low enough price to make it worthwhile for someone to try to buy a flight by getting a player to lose a match on purpose instead of just paying $200,000 retail.
You shall see the Stars lose their virginity
It would be nice to have Richard Branson’s brand. There is a growing consensus that Virgin Galactic will not be the first company to offer revenue flights to tourists even as it is touted on “60 Minutes” and hundreds of stories in national and international media. Rocketplane says that they will fly in 2007 vs. Virgin Galactic’s 2008 or 2009. There are also a couple of dark horse craft that may get to market sooner than Virgin or possibly even sooner than Rocketplane. I spoke to Texas Governor Rick Perry on Saturday at the Texas Roundup 10k run. When I asked him about a Texas Space Authority he said that was something Jeff Bezos was interested in. When I spoke to Deputy Associate Administrator George Nield of FAA/AST at Space Access last week, he confirmed that much of the information that gets filed with his agency is proprietary so it does not get released and they cannot even confirm the existence of it. We could get notice at any time that Blue Origin’s Texas spaceport application is as far along as Oklahoma’s and a launch license may follow as quickly on the heels of the spaceport license as Scaled’s launch license followed the Mojave Spaceport license.
If the first to market does turn out to be Rocketplane and their product is accepted by the media, it will be Space-Shot.com, not VirginGalacticQuest.com, that gets more interest from the press and public. Virgin Galactic’s $13 million in deposits is all refundable on ninety days’ notice.
You shall see the Stars belong to the multitude
There is a reason that the meek shall inherit the Earth (Matthew 5:5). Everyone else will have gone to the stars.