Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Space Movie

How often have great designers, engineers, and scientists been interviewed, and when asked about their original inspiration they reference some movie or show.

Star Wars, Star Trek,  2001: A Space Odyssey, Buck Rogers, The Jetsons. These movies and TV shows have literally inspired thousands of people to make the fiction fact.

Now, within the last ten years, point to a movie or TV show which could be the definitive media trigger to inspire new technologists. Many will respond with Interstellar, Avatar, Star Wars, and Star Trek. But the trouble is, of those answers, only Interstellar and Avatar were really new concepts. But across the board, none of these movies had at their core the wonder of discovery or space travel itself. Interstellar was not about exploration but about a man separated from his family. Avatar was not about exploration but the dangers and warnings to consider in it.

In the last decade there has been no single movie which has defined the glory and wonder of space exploration and expansion. In the movies where this has been a possibility, Space has simply been a backdrop, not the focus.

How can an industry which requires a level of public opinion and knowledge to survive, by driving tourism ambitions and potentially tax dollars, survive without becoming a part of  culture.

Movies and media really define the state of American society at any given time. Space exploration used to be lived and breathed by everyone, when the moon landings were happening. Today, the attempt to land a rocket on a barge to reduce spaceflight costs by factors of 10, barely makes it onto Google News.

A movie needs to be made about space travel and exploration. A movie which actually captures the imagination and hope of the world. A movie which makes people "starry-eyed" about space travel again.

The date of the launch of the Jupiter II of "Lost in Space"
While we at "The Space Economy" are not fictional writers, what story could be more endearing than one set ten years from now when the space industry is fully active. Every space movie in recent years, or ever, has begun 50-100 years in the future. People will be amazed and excited by a date at the beginning of a movie of just 5-10 years in the future.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Space Burial

One of the more interesting space businesses, which is really as old as spaceflight itself, is the idea of space burials.

As a means of disposing of the deceased space burials are actually quite practical and even more emotional. Leaving someone in a place where they will perpetually drift and travel and perhaps even seed life into arid worlds, is a very romantic way to send them on to the next life.

Space burials have been going on since the very first moon landers. Ashes of people have been sent up ever since. Celestis, Inc is a company that has formed around the idea of space burial. Celestis purchases empty space on launches and fills them with samples of cremated remains. The people that have been buried in space include Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, as well as several hundred other people.

However, at this point a typical space burial includes less than an ounce of ashes in a sample tube which take the ride, but then typically come back down as the orbit decays or the mission ends. Very few people have had remains placed permanently into space. And certainly, there have been no full bodies sent, only cremated remains.

Space burials as a business, are actually very simple. A basic set of vials are made and ashes inserted. Then they are placed in an empty corner of the next possible launch. Low weight, low effort, but a very moving way to be buried.

In future space burials will no doubt become much more commonplace. While they are currently reserved for rich and famous, as launches become ever more frequent so will the space to place the small caskets. Someday entire bodies may be buried in space. Though there will no doubt be restrictions on this practice to ensure that tourists in orbit are not surprised by a cadaver outside of the station.

Space burials will also grow to be much more than a typical burial. They may come to epitomize the ideals of space travel. Imagine an astronaut or scientist dedicating their entire life to space but dying before their dream was realized. Perhaps they wanted to reach an asteroid or set foot on Mars. Placing to sending their remains to those places fulfills and legitimizes their life's work and can inspire others to follow.

Space burials are likely one of the oldest commercial space businesses and will likely remain after many others die.  While at this moment they may seem a bit sterile compared to a casket and flowers, they are far more meaningful and beautiful. Space is an eternity, why not place a person's remains in eternity after they have entered it.

Space Toys

A company for the creation of toys uniquely suited for the environment of space.

While the beauty of space is awe inspiring, when you live there for long periods of time it starts to lose its charm. Diversions for space travelers will have to become an industry. Toys and games will need to be created which tourists and explorers can enjoy while locked inside of a can or bubble.

So what would a space toy look like? Well, the simplest is a ball. Astronauts in the ISS have used balls as entertainment in the zero-g environment for years. While entertaining space-ball will lose its novelty, especially to people who are watching it. And in an industry where pubic opinion will have huge sway, it is important to create a "Space Experience" that can't be replicated. Catch in space is still just catch.

So any kind of space toy must be able to exist only in space, otherwise the romance and desire is gone from those who are not a part of it.

So, what can occur in a weightless environment that can't anywhere else. The first thing is structures. Gossamer creations can exist in space that would collapse on earth. A building set made of straws could be an option. Or perhaps a strategy game, such at dominoes, where players attempt to limit the movies of other players. Perhaps a dynamic game where players set certain pieces in motion without disrupting others. Or maybe instead of using a board, each space is a separate piece that floats in midair. Anything that utilizes the 3-D, floating experience of space.

Astronauts insert a GoPro into a bubble of water for fun
Now, in the current space environment of high launch costs and no-frills design, a toy may not be high on the shopping list. This is founded. Given the choice between a toy or a tool many will choose the tool when going to space. The weight of even a few pounds of toys or games costs thousands of dollars to launch.

Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to launch toys. They can be beamed to orbit. Made-In-Space recently sent a 3-D printer to the ISS that has been making plastic tools and spare parts for several months. It would be so simple to just e-mail a set of space Legos.

3-D printing will allow crews of space missions to not only create necessary parts and tools but also a little entertainment with no launch cost. And when the toy becomes boring it can be melted down and turned into something else.

Because of technologies like 3-D printing space toys are something that can be created today. A high school kid with Google Sketch-up could create something that could be sold to the astronauts on the ISS tomorrow.

Space toys will be a low-cost-of-entry business. And, at this point, there is no competition because no one has really considered it. But it will be an industry as tourism heats up in coming years. Plus explorers on long missions to Mars will love to have an inventory of "made for space" entertainment that they can download when they want it, play with it, and then turn into a spare part.

Anyone with some time and creativity can create a business that would never have to have inventory, but would help to support the psychological wellness of many space missions in the future. Maybe by just creating a 3-D printable space chess set.

Below Astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates a dart game the astronauts created, and tries a game designed by the Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.