Wednesday, February 13, 2008

IMAGINE! What if, I could be writing this very piece on a space pod, far away from planet earth and creatures from such diverse species could be reading it rather than just you, live and enraptured. Maybe I wish too much. Or maybe.... Any takers???
Since the dawn of time, man has chosen to be curious, to seek ahead, seek beyond, of what’s right in front of him, his home, state, country and planet. Visionaries of the past like Arthur C. Clark, Jules Verne and our very own Tagore had all but jotted down the route map to space and back.
The first realization of this dream was on July 20th, 1969 when a certain Mr. Armstrong laid his foot on the moon and set the mega-event in motion. But we have come a long way from 1969! Now, who wouldn’t want to go into space without having to become an American astronaut, a Russian cosmonaut, or a Chinese taikonaut? We owe our thanks to Mr. Dennis Tito who actually curved fiction into fact. On April 28th 2001, the American businessman and NASA engineer booked the first flight ticket to space. An 8-day “vacation trip”. 5 minutes of weightlessness and back to planet-sweet-planet. Guess, how much his space ticket cost him? USD 20 million (Rs. 80 lakh, roughly)…. Phew!
Thank God, its 2008!!! Because a lot has happened over the last 6-7 years. Now there are a number of cost-effective ways under development to safely transport people to and from the space for just a fraction of what Mr. Tito shelled. Just last month, in California, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and American aircraft designer Burt Rutan slid open two corrugated steel doors to reveal the two new gleaming aircrafts under the Virgin Galactic umbrella. The audience in the standing-room only crowd let out audible gasps. Christened “white-knight II” and “space-ship II” will work in tandem as a sub-orbital launch system. In just a few years, these ships will be ferrying passengers like you and I through the veil of space. And just so you know, 200 people have already lapped up the $ 200,000 ticket, and more are booking ‘em even as I write this.
That having been said, this type of mega-event does not merely sustain on hear-say alone. Admittedly, a little bit of science is also involved! A massive amount of Kinetic energy is required to push up the space shuttle, which means great expenses and no small degree of risk. And since, I am on the topic of risks, there is the huge-risk of colliding with space debris or getting calculations errors. I tell you, not something to play with folks.
But then again, the future is not a black-hole. Branson-Rutan team and a whole lot of smart guys are working on safety rates 100 times safer than government space flights.Floating in space. Weightlessness. 0-gravity. That’s’ the stuff sci-fi is made of. Not anymore! That’s another factor to consider. Although the notion is extremely exhilarating, but only people with strong hearts and physically fit will be able to board this space odyssey. Since, prolonged stay in zero gravity may cause health hazards namely space sickness, nausea, head-ache, and deterioration in skeletal structure. Yikes!!
Also, this might have crossed the your mind, including yours truly. Er… the cost of the ticket to space. Need I repeat? $ 200,000. a slight pinch in the pocket, don’t you think? However, let’s not be disheartened ladies and gentlemen! Let me point out. Just as once upon a time, our daily house-hold appliances like refrigerators, televisions and even cars, were a distant eutopia for the average family, but now only 20 years on, they are literally planted in everybody’s homes. Likewise, lets say, 20 years from now, space tourism would be an average holiday package.

Industry is clearly the buzzword for Branson. This will surely unlock a whole wall of private sector money. Just as, mobile hones and internet technologies, have reached the common man out of military origins, so will space flights reach us, hopefully in a very short time!
Anyhow, the way we are exploiting our home planet’s resources and the on-going reality of global warming and climate change, it will rather be sooner than later, we will have to ssek a fresh, un-exploited new world to inhabit. Imagine, the limitless amount of raw materials, we can tap.
In the long run, life on earth as we know it will be an ever increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear holocaust, or a genetically engineered virus and other dangers. So, earthians, lets open our minds, and start imagining. Lets open our eyes, and see beyond this sky. Somewhere, out there, might be our future home!