A good date for space travel

By coincidence, May 25th has been a significant year for space travel in several years. On that date in 1945, Arthur C Clarke (later Sir Arthur) began circulating to his friends a proposal he later published in Practical Wireless. It suggested that TV signals could be beamed down to Earth from satellites in geostationary orbits, 26,000 miles high, so they would match the rotation of the Earth and appear to remain at a fixed point in the sky. The idea later became the basis for Intelsat and its successors.

It was the date on which President Kennedy announced in 1961 America’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before this decade is out.” NASA achieved that goal five months ahead of the target date. It was a remarkable and ambitious target to set, since Alan Shephard had flown his suborbital flight as America’s first man in space only 20 days previously.

It was on May 25th, 1977, that cinema goers had their minds blown by the premiere of "Star Wars." The movie quickened the pulse and inculcated a new eagerness for space among young and not-so-young people worldwide. It started the franchise that became a cult, filling the screens with adventures of space travel.

And it was also on May 25th, in 2012, that Elon Musk’s SpaceX docked its Dragon capsule with the International Space Station. It was the first private sector vehicle to achieve such an accomplishment, and opened up a new era of private participation in space exploration. Indeed, of the four space anniversaries that took place on May 25th, only President Kennedy’s announcement concerned a public sector event.

Space Travel is far from the "utter bilge" it was characterized as by the Astronomer Royal, Sir Richard van der Riet Woolley, just before Sputnik I was launched. It has proved its importance economically, militarily, scientifically and psychologically since then. The new element recently has been the incorporation of private sector initiatives into developing and testing new techniques, into experimenting with novel and cheaper ways of achieving space goals.

While much public money is spent on space exploration, the increasing commercial use of space means that entrepreneurs will invest resources and effort into gaining increased value from it, value that customers on Earth will happily pay for if it adds value to their businesses and enables them to provide better services to their customers.