On Tuesday, an Australian physicist and engineer will boldly go where very few have gone before, blasting off into space on board Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space capsule.
Former NASA engineer Dr Chris Boshuizen will become the third Australian to fly into space. And when he lifts off this week, he won’t be alone.
Travelling alongside him for the short flight will be 90-year-old William Shatner, who played Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk.
Dr Boshuizen said space flight is an important part of humanity’s evolution, and he believes the human race will be able to live and work in space eventually.
“It’s a future I’ve always believed in … and I want to see that happen,” Dr Boshuizen told RN Breakfast.
So is he nervous about blasting off?
“Oh, absolutely,” he said.
“I’m sitting on top of a giant tank of hydrogen. Who wouldn’t be?”
The journey is a short one and will take about 15 minutes in total.
“We actually get to space really, really quickly. It takes about four minutes to go about 100 kilometres, which is pretty fast,” he said.
“Then we have about four minutes of weightlessness and then we fall back down on parachutes, which also takes about five or so minutes.”
He can’t wait to see Earth from space.
“I will be only one of 600 people in the entire history of the 10 billion or so humans that have ever lived that have seen that view,” he said.
Safer and more reliable
Dr Boshuizen grew up in Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains, NSW, and dreamt of going into space. He studied physics and maths at the University of Sydney before he moved to the US.
He worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and one of his projects was a Hover Test Vehicle, an early attempt at a lower cost lunar lander.
During his time at NASA, he was involved with more than 50 rocket launches and he said he’s satisfied the Blue Origin launch will be safe.
“I’ve seen the good and the bad and the ugly in that industry. And you know rockets are not as safe as airplanes yet.
“But one of the nice things about this new generation of rockets, Blue Origins’ New Shepard and SpaceX’s Falcon Nine, is that they were reusable. And this will not be the first flight of this rocket.
“And just like an airplane, we wouldn’t throw out an airplane after we flew at once. I think these new rockets are safer and more reliable, because they’re designed to be reused.”
What’s the cost?
Dr Boshuizen was tight-lipped about how much his trip is costing, refusing to give a ballpark figure.
“It is a little bit expensive, I will admit that.”
But he claims the price of getting out of Earth’s orbit is coming down.
“Pretty soon, it’ll be affordable for many, many people.”
“The most significant thing of this event that I want to share with people is to let them know that the prices are going to come down and they can actually go,” he said.
He admits that right now, prices are out of reach for most of us.
“I kind of think it’s like the opening night of a show.
“If you’re going on the opening night with all of the celebrities, tickets are expensive. But a few weeks later, the show is the regular price.
“I’m going in the expensive phase of the opening up of space travel.”
Travelling with William Shatner
Dr Boshuizen described himself as a “lifelong” Star Trek fan and said Mr Shatner has inspired many scientists to explore the universe.
“He’s an ambassador for space,” he said.
“Through his character on Star Trek, William Shatner [was] a great role model for a bright future that I hope we can move towards.”
“I think all of the things that Star Trek ever stood for, you know, the peaceful exploration of space, the [non-interference] Prime Directive, the fact that this society was very egalitarian.
“I think those are all values that we can aspire to.”
Joy rides for billionaires?
Dr Boshuizen defended the efforts of billionaires, including those of Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, to expand space exploration.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this being joy rides for billionaires, and I can see that criticism and I think it’s fair,” he said.
“[But] when I think about early balloon pioneers or the Wright brothers, even Robert Goddard [credited with creating and building the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket], famously the New York Times criticised Goddard, saying that there’s no way rockets could possibly work.
“So, I think when new things in science technology come along, we are often skeptical of them. I’m sure in the 1880s, the early balloon pioneers were probably laughed at to the equal measure of today’s space billionaires.”
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