Financial Times, October 20 2007.
How does flying in space for a private company differ from flying for the government? ‘In the commercial world, the time scales involved are being dramatically cut,’ says Brian Binnie. Indeed, Binnie was selected to fly the second of the two flights needed to win the X Prize on a Thursday, started training for it the next day, and flew it on Monday. ‘You could say my direct involvement in the second X Prize flight was four days,’ he says.
Binnie contrasts his experience with that of the commander of a recent shuttle flight who spent nine years at Nasa before getting to fly. ‘So the signature of commercial space ventures, if they’re to be viable,’ he says, ‘will be high fly rates, which hopefully means you don’t have to work for a lifetime to have that experience.’ It goes without saying that viability will also have to include a safety record far better than the US space shuttle’s.
In many ways, the development of space travel seems destined to echo that of ordinary air travel. Private companies took air travel out of the exclusive domain of militaries and governments and gave it first to the very rich; then low-cost carriers such as Ryanair started turning round aircraft faster, increasing the frequency of flights and thus making them affordable for many more people. Space travel is taking the first step in this process.