When you think of space travel, do you think of NASA? The Russian space program? The Chinese government?

Old thinking, because the newest players in space may be taking over the game. I’m talking about global corporate interests. Big money. While governments continue to keep the budgets of organizations like NASA in near-starvation mode, the corporate stars of the world are stepping to the front of the line. People like Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, Larry Page of Google, Elon Musk from PayPal, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. They’ve been getting together over martinis (or something expensive) and forming new companies to explore—and exploit—outer space. We’ve known for some years that Virgin Galactic plans to fly tourists to the edge of space and back (for $200,000 a crack, thank you very much), and they are getting closer to their first paying trips. I’ve written before about SpaceX, whose Dragon spacecraft are already flying supply missions to the International Space Station. But there are also new startup companies like Moon Express, preparing to build (and use) landers for the Moon. Planetary Resources intends to mine asteroids, and maybe even save us from those threatening meteor strikes we keep hearing about. Deep Space Industries is another would-be mining company. And we shouldn’t forget less commercial, but equally enterprising ventures like Inspiration Mars (mentioned in my last post), planning to send a married couple to Mars in about five years from now, and Mars One, a group that hopes to have a colony on the Red Planet by 2023.

These people are not fruitcakes, but some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the new economy. And their plans sound like fantastic dreams, but they’ve got solid scientists working with them. The space race is going corporate.

Was this inevitable? Since we taxpayers tend to cast our eyes closer to home on our hospitals and our roads, maybe governments just can’t continue to back the exploration of space and it’s up to the moneymakers to do it.

You can see the attraction for them. Talk about your offshore tax havens! Claim an asteroid and make the rules—who’s really going to stop them? Laws? The law of gravity is the only really important one, and it’ll ensure monopolies for the companies rich enough to break it. But lets not forget tourist opportunities: what high roller wouldn’t want to show off to his friends in a casino in Earth orbit, with all of we peasants zipping past below?

By the way, we’ll still be funding all of these ventures—by being the customers of Google, PayPal, Amazon and the like, and then buying the products these new companies bring back from way out there.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Did you think Columbus sailed to America because he felt like tanning on a new beach?


Could your marriage stand sixteen months of togetherness with no chance of escape?

If the answer is Yes maybe you should sign up for the trip of a lifetime.

In case you missed it, Inspiration Mars, a private non-profit group, announced last week that they plan to send a man and a woman on a spaceflight to the Red Planet. The mission would involve a straightforward flight to our nearest planetary neighbour, one loop around it at a height of one hundred miles, and then the return to Earth. The proposed launch date is January 5th, 2018 because at that time Earth and Mars will be in their best alignment for the shortest possible trip (which only happens twice every fifteen years) and, coincidentally, the sun will be at the lowest point of its eleven-year sunspot cycle. That reduces the hazard of solar radiation, although there will still be plenty left—enough that the astro-couple should be past their child-bearing years because the voyage will probably make them sterile. This isn’t just a fantasy: Inspiration Mars has the support of some big (and wealthy) names along with some reputable organizations and companies. The mission is intended to re-inspire the American people and provide an opportunity for important research.

The group wants a married couple so they’ll be able to give each other emotional support over such a long trip, far away from every other living soul.

Is that really the way it would work out? Let’s think about the possibilities:

The Good? Zero-gee sex. The Bad? With the way zero-gravity pools blood in the body, she may have a headache the whole trip.

The good: she’ll know exactly where he is every night. The bad: no girlfriend time…for either of them.

He’ll get to watch TV in the bedroom. On the other hand, if some of the funds come from filming a reality TV show, everyone on Earth could be watching them in the bedroom.

Good: there’ll only be room in the closet for one pair of her shoes. Bad: before the ship clears the orbit of the Moon his dirty socks will be floating everywhere.

He’ll look for any excuse not to shave or bathe. Zero-gee will make them both puffy: try to imagine 501 straight “fat days.”

And then when they turn to Dr. Phil for marriage counseling, it will take four minutes for the TV doctor’s questions to get to them by radio, so he’ll hear each answer eight minutes after he’s asked the question. Dr. Phil’s not that patient.

On the other hand, since the spacecraft won’t actually land on Mars but only make an uninterrupted round trip, that means the husband will be able to travel 374 million kilometers without stopping to ask directions.

This just might work.