Radio interviews from BBC on the proposed British Skylon spaceplane

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Here's a page from BBC definitely worth checking out on the British Skylon spaceplane, a vehicle that would be able to quickly take cargo into space (all the way up to geostationary orbit) every two days or so, landing in the same location and ready to take off again in a very short time. Whether development of the spaceplane will be fully funded is not yet known, but apparently it's almost decision time.

The article has four short radio interviews, and I found the first part of the first one to be particularly interesting as it gives a name to something I've always thought about, the fact that the Earth isn't quite ideal for a spacefaring civilization. Earth is just a little bit too big and massive to achieve escape velocity with your average rocket. I've always also seen the mass and position of the Moon to be another one of the factors here - if it was about the size of Ceres and just 100,000 km or so away (along with a slightly less massive Earth) travel to and from space would have been easy, and our first destination would have been that much easier to get both to and back from.

The name of the paradox is something like the Von Pirkei paradox (not sure how to spell it as it was just spoken once), and is about how once you've gotten away from the gravity well of the Earth (or anywhere else) you're already halfway to anywhere, but the fact that we're in a gravity well as deep as ours has limited access to space to just a few hundred people even almost 40 years after Yuri Gagarin first explored it.

Of course, it isn't that much of a paradox if you think about how NASA receives less than 1% of the US budget, and other space agencies even less. In other words, it's a paradox for the time being simply because we don't care enough to properly fund the technology needed to make getting from the Earth to space and back a normal occurrence.

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