Photo, All rights copyright Microsoft
The world has a love-hate relationship with Taxi’s. Here in New York, where we have more taxi’s than anywhere in the world. We often make fun of taxi’s. We complain about the quality of the service, we complain about their cleanliness, we complain about the accents of the drivers… but we use them more often than any other city dwellers on earth.
In fact, in New York and elsewhere, when we create another form of reliable and inexpensive transportation we often slap the “taxi” name on it. We have water taxis in NYC, which usually seats 20 or more people. We even paint them NYC taxi-yellow. Occasionally, I hear of some kind of sky taxi (a helicopter or small plane). Now, the space transportation firm “Space X,” has a sky taxi! I wonder whether they will consider painting it yellow?
America has largely forgotten that the US space program, doesn’t have any space ships. Sure, we have some rockets to put satellites into orbit, but even these flights are largely outsourced to other countries. The last craft that the US had that was capable of launching a human into space was the space shuttle, which retired in July of 2011. Even before the shuttle was grounded, we began relying on the Russians for space transportation. The Russian space program charges us a hefty price to put a man in space. Our previous contract from 2016 charged $22 million per astronaut, which went up to $71 million in 2013. Still, this costs less than the shuttle did.
And then came the Crimea. Since we’ve been less than supportive of their policy in Crimea, Russian has warned America that when the contract is over in 2016, the price is going way up… or they may simply not renew. America’s reaction was to consider eliminating some Russian contracts. However, all of this enmity over space has been (so far) restricted to US/Russian government contracts, not all the private industry contracts. What will NASA use once the Russians shut off our space service?
China is the third country that has launched a human into space, and even landed robots on the moon, but NASA hasn’t even started to negotiate a contact. Another big player is Space Agency. While they have put some satellites into orbit, they’ve never been able to launch people. At the moment, the Russians are the only game in town for the US, and we only have until 2016 until our contract expires. And the Russians may not renew. Remember all that nastiness over the Crimea? Well, the Russians certainly do! The US has hit them with penalties, and Russia in-turn has found a way to penalize us.
Just in time, the new space taxi from Space X, is due to arrive. It’s going to be down to the wire, but the space taxi may prove that commercial space transportation can be a LOT cheaper than the government provided alternative. If that turns out to be the case, the space taxi may be the single most important vehicle in human history. Alternatively, the winner in the commercial race for space will be Virgin airline, with their new Virgin Galactic space port in Arizona. Yes, Virgin airlines have a space transportation system that is already pre-booked its first 600 passengers. With Virgin, you can even go on-line today and book a flight.
NASA will have even more options coming up as the space transportation industry continues to mature, and even as its own Orion craft becomes available at the beginning of the next decade. But until then, why not call a taxi? And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!