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The bell of freedom rings in space

The Liberty Bell
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and the
inhabitants thereof.” Photo credit: William Zhang

Not surprisingly the mainstream press today was agog with hundreds of stories about Richard Branson’s suborbital space flight yesterday on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.

The excitement and joy over this success is certainly warranted. Back in 2004 Branson set himself the task of creating a reusable suborbital space plane he dubbed SpaceShipTwo, modeled after the suborbital plane that had won the Ansari X-Prize and intended to sell tickets so that private citizens would have the ability to go into space.

His flight yesterday completed that journey. The company he founded and is slowly selling off so that he is only a minority owner now has a vehicle that for a fee can take anyone up to heights ranging from 50 to 60 miles, well within the U.S. definition of space.

Nonetheless, if you rely on the media frenzy about this particular flight to inform you about the state of commercial space you end up having a very distorted picture of this new blossoming industry. Branson’s achievement, as great as it is, has come far too late. Had he done it a decade ago, as he had promised, he would have achieved something historic, proving what was then considered impossible, that private enterprise, using no government resources, could make space travel easy and common.

Now, however, he merely joins the many other private enterprises that are about to fly into space, with most doing it more frequently and with far greater skill and at a much grander scale than Virgin Galactic. His flight is no longer historic. It is merely one of many that is about to reshape space exploration forever.

Consider the upcoming schedule of already paid for commercial manned flights:

  • July 20th: Blue Origin flies New Shepard on a suborbital flight with Jeff Bezos and three others, including one paying passenger
  • September 2021: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flies four private citizens on a three day orbital flight
  • October 2021: The Russians will fly two passengers to ISS to shoot a movie
  • December 2021: The Russians will fly billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant to ISS for 12 days
  • cDecember 2021: Space Adventures, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four in orbit for five days
  • January 2022: Axiom, using a Dragon capsule, will fly four tourists to ISS
  • 2022-2024: Three more Axiom tourist flights on Dragon to ISS
  • 2024: Axiom begins launching its own modules to ISS, starting construction of its own private space station
  • c2024: SpaceX’s Starship takes Yusaku Maezawa and several others on a journey around the Moon.

This manifest of future manned commercial tourist flights is in fact so packed that it has already exceeded the capacity of ISS to handle it. There simply are not enough docking ports, forcing these missions to either spread themselves out for when a port is available, or to forego going to ISS entirely, as SpaceX is doing with the September and December flights.

While government money is involved, it is not what is fueling these flights. For example, though the Russian flights are being run by a government corporation, Roscosmos, they are still private in that the funding is coming from outside the government’s space program, and are being flown for profit.

Similarly, the development of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule might have been largely funded by NASA, but SpaceX also developed it using private investment capital, and is flying its September commercial flight with no government participation at all.

What makes the American flights especially profound is their ownership. The rockets and spacecraft are privately owned and controlled, conceived not by government agencies but by the people that own the companies. Their effort doesn’t spring from a “government space program,” the only method used to fly into space since the 1960s, but from the individual dreams and aspirations of their owners, and the customers who are buying the tickets into space.

Even more profound, those individual dreams spring from the American concept of freedom, of the right of any human being to pursue their happiness, no matter where it leads them and despite the risk.

Simply put, it is that freedom and pursuit of happiness that is fueling this renaissance in space. Because many Americans are freely pursuing their dreams in outer space we are getting many different options and companies. Some dream of building the rockets. Some want to build the spaceships. Others dream of providing space station hotels for the rockets and spaceships and their passengers.

Because of this plethora of dreams, the competition is fierce. There is money to be made here because many people are willing to spend it to fulfill their dreams. If you can provide them the best method for doing so they will flock to your door.

Thus, we have a sudden burst of spaceflight that makes every government space program in the past half century since Apollo seem quaint, small-minded, and limited in scope. Freedom dreams big, and it brings with it big accomplishments.

Right now the possibilities in space are truly astounding. In the next decade private citizens and free enterprise could quickly get humans back to the Moon, begin the first manned missions to Mars, and do it for pennies compared to the cumbersome, slow, and inefficient government programs we have been saddled with for the past half century. Moreover, increasingly the taxpayer will be paying for none of it. Instead, those who want to go will pay the ticket, and that payment will fund the exploration.

Freedom will reign, as long as we and our government stand back and let it happen. Freedom means if you are not interested in going you leave well enough alone, allowing those that are interested the liberty to do what they wish.

And yet, there are far too many people in America today who really don’t wish to let others do what they wish. For example, consider this editorial today published by NBS News and headlined like so: “Richard Branson space flight beats out Jeff Bezos. But all of humanity loses.”

The author appears to love space, but she worries that the wealthy people buying tickets into space won’t see it they way she does, and this can’t be allowed. As she concludes, after recounting the experiences of several government astronauts (making sure to note their very irrelevant races and ethnicity):

As dissimilar and unexpected as their paths are, they all experienced something in common: a life-altering epiphany about the unity of the universe once they got to see the stars up close and a calling to change the world they returned to for the better.

It seems unlikely that the billionaires who travel to space will engage in a meaningful way with the broader population afterward, in part because they’re so far removed from other people. In fact, their privilege has put them at such odds with Earth’s inhabitants that many don’t want them to come back, epiphany-equipped or not. A petition that implores, “Do not allow Jeff Bezos to return to Earth,” has over 150,000 signatures.

In other words, because these wealthy individuals are following their personal aspirations and not hers, their effort is invalid, and it is even justified to wish their failure.

Do not be surprised if you hear more such opinions from these modern control freaks, both in and out of government. Such people are now legion (as we have seen in the past year), and are working hard to capture all human endeavors and stuff them all into their own little pockets, for their purposes and no one else’s.

If they succeed, freedom will not reign but die, and so will the new renaissance in space exploration. Americans will not go to the stars, because the small-minded and envious among us will act to squelch those dreams.

Right now however freedom does reign in space, more than it has at any time since the first human flew back in 1961. May it ring forever, throughout the stars on worlds without end, proclaiming the wonders of liberty to all so that all may follow their dreams unimpeded, wherever those dreams may lead.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Because astronauts are not at all privileged. There are probably more billionaires than people qualified to be astronauts – regardless of whether or not they actually tried to become one.

    Oooh! Did I just discover a new privilege axis? Maybe not. This might just be the “physically fit” privilege axis, which has “differently abled” on the other side (is a “person of weight” at the zero point?), and the “driven/ambitious” axis combined. Although that puts that woke Olympian (whatever its name is) in same “quadrant”, which doesn’t seem quite right.

    Considering how stupid these people are, they’re quite adept at defining, if not using, multi-dimensional Venn diagrams.

  • mkent

    For example, though the Russian flights are being run by a government corporation, Roscosmos, they are still private in that the funding is coming from outside the government’s space program, and are being flown for profit.

    I’m not sure that’s true of the October 2021 flight of the movie actress. Rogozin is the producer of the film, and it comes across to me as a stunt pulled being pulled by Roscosmos in reaction to the reported Tom Cruise film to be partially shot in space.

    However, you did miss one. Space Adventures has a manned Dragon flight booked for next year to go to LEO. It will reportedly fly higher than any Shuttle flight, so the participants will see views not seen with the human eye since Apollo 17 returned home in 1972.

  • mkent: You are right. I forgot about that Space Adventures contract. I will amend. Thank you.

  • Michael S. Kelly

    Cis-lunar space is poised to become the next “boom town,” reminiscent of the Old West. Business opportunities will abound, but I have my sights set on a specific one. Every boom town needed transportation (stage coaches, railroads), hotels, stores, etc. These are taken care of by Elon, Bigelow, Bezos, etc. Each one also had a very necessary bit of infrastructure: a saloon. So when cis-lunar space becomes a genuine boom-town, I intend to establish its first saloon. I’ll call it the “Cis-Boom Bar.”

  • Andi

    Small edit in penultimate paragraph; “reign “

  • Gary

    I look forward to Michael becoming the Al Swearengen of cislunar space!?

  • Andi: Darn, I thought I had caught all of those. Fixed. Thank you.

  • @ Michael S. Kelly: I’m in.

  • markedup2 remarked: “Considering how stupid these people are, they’re quite adept at defining, if not using, multi-dimensional Venn diagrams”

    Now that’s intriguing. Intersecting spheres, perhaps 4D to take Time into account? I’ve considered 3D modeling with spheres, but had not made the connection between 2D Venn Diagrams and other possibilities. Thanks!

  • Jim Schmidt

    May I be the bouncer at the “Cis-Boom Bar”?

    Though being in my mid 50s, the gravity would have to be pretty low for me to bounce anyone.

  • Joe

    For the Cis-Boom-Bar, being a bouncer would be fun. Just remember size and strength don’t matter as much as having an understanding of how mass works in a microgravity environment. Someone who is drunk probably has lost that understanding and can be easily subdued.

  • wayne

    Al Swearengen
    “Commentary on Saloon’s”

  • After three dimensions, one really must just trust the math. Human brains do not deal well with four spatial dimensions and beyond that we’re pretty useless.

    I can somewhat manage the first three Platonic solids. Perhaps this technique will help others:

    Start with an anchored point. Grab it and pull it out into a line segment. Rotate the far end around the fixed point (it is an inked line, so it smears around into a solid circle, not a hollow one): Circle. Change the anchor from a point (1-D) to the diameter line (2-D). Rotate the circle around that fixed line: Sphere. Change the anchor from the diameter line (2-D) to the surface (3-D). Rotate the sphere around that fixed surface: Hyper-sphere. If you push this hyper-sphere through a 3-D space, it looks like series of sphere increasing in size until the original sized sphere appears, then they start decreasing in size.

    Start with an anchored point. Grab the middle of it and pull it out into a line segment. Grab the middle of that line segment and pull on that: Triangle (keep it equilateral for sanity). Grab the middle of that and pull “up”: Tetrahedron. Grab the middle of that and pull “out”: Hyper-tetrahedron. This one has orientation, so how it looks passing through 3-D space varies, a lot.

    And the most well known: Start with an anchored point. Grab the whole thing and stretch it into a line segment. Grab the whole line segment and drag it: Square. Grab the whole square and pull up: Cube. Grab the whole cube and pull “out”: Hyper-cube.

    Since we’ve all seen pictures of this, it helps visualize the tetrahedron: You get a hyper-cube that has a cube for each side. If viewed from the right 3-D perspective, it is a cube on the outside, a cube on the inside, and a smushed trapezoidal (rhomboid?) solid for each side. The tetrahedron is much the same: You get a tetrahedron on each side (so four of them), but they look like smushed triangular solids. If you orient it properly, you will get a tetrahedron on the outside, with all the other sides “inside” it meeting in the middle.

    The sphere is the easiest to visualize crossing/projecting into 3-D space. The other two are easier to (attempt to) visualize in their native 4-D space (from a couple of special positions), but simple 4-D rotations and translations do very odd things in 3-D space. Trust the math!!

  • Richard M

    From Chandra Steele:

    “In one-on-one conversations and in group discussions, a recurrent topic was the devotion they felt to the Earth and its inhabitants while they looked at them from above, and a dedication to improving life on the planet when they got back. They are now all engaged in educational efforts that relate to their time spent in space.”

    Either she is simply ignorant of Jared Isaacman and his Inspiration4 Dragon flight – which is being done to raise funds and awareness for hospitals specializing in children’s cancer treatment, and includes a childhood cancer survivor nurse picked for her history and vocation, not her pocketbook.

    But apparently no amount of “improving life on earth” counts if you are not an employee of a national government.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “And yet, there are far too many people in America today who really don’t wish to let others do what they wish. For example, consider this editorial today published by NBS News ” (There is a typo on NBC News)

    The premise is wrong. From Chandra Steele’s editorial:

    The space race used to be between superpowers, but now it’s between the super-rich and everyone else.

    The new space race is only between the super-rich, not between them and everyone else. It is the everyone else who benefits from the innovations and lower prices that this competition has already created.

    It was federal tax dollars that were the foundation of NASA. The collective coffers of the country put a man on the moon, and a half-billion people watched it on TV. The astronauts did not go in the stead of the rest of the planet; they were pioneers on behalf of the rest of the population.

    Yet now that wealthy people are going to spend their own money on behalf of he rest of the population, this is suddenly a bad thing? With each flight of these wealthy people, the space companies learn a little more about spaceflight. Even if these flights do not directly benefit the population, as NASA’s flights never directly benefitted the population, the collective knowledge from all the spaceflights have brought us closer to space industries that will directly benefit the population.

    The company Made In Space is eager to provide space manufacturing to benefit us all. Half a century of NASA spaceflight has not resulted in such manufacturing, but commercial space is eager to begin what NASA has failed to provide, all these decades. A big difference between for-profit and non-profit is that the for-profit company is eager to supply everyone else with goods and services that they are willing to pay for.

    We have to suffer through people like Chandra Steele, tech and culture journalist, too shortsighted to see the larger picture, too myopic to envision a better future and the path to it. She clearly does not understand the technology nor the culture that develops it for use. She only sees the tales of space travelers of their voyages as being the most benefit we get from space. This may seem true under the government-control paradigm, but commercial space is eager to provide far more benefit, creating far more economic activity.

    Most technologies begin life as only affordable to the wealthy or to companies or governments. It is only through the use by these groups that the technologies are improved and made efficient enough for the rest of us to use. This is even the case for space tourism, which started out too expensive for all but the extremely wealthy, and now two companies are able to provide space tourism for under a million dollars. When SpaceX first announced the Starship concept, they believed that they could provide travel to Mars for under a million dollars. This is a result of the technologies developed after many, many space launches.

    As space travel becomes less expensive, it will become more common. As it becomes more common, more will be learned and more technology will become available. As these technologies become available, the price of space travel will become even less expensive. This is the normal path of technological development, and we have seen that space travel is the same way. After all, how much did it cost to put Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom on their suborbital flights? Today, suborbital travel is less expensive, and 600 people are already signed up, more than have already been to space.

    It is because each of us and all of us are free to pursue our own happinesses that many technologies are developed or improved. When enough of us are happy with the same goods or services, then those are the ones that become more developed, less expensive, and more common. Over the past quarter millennium we have seen this happen over and over again, showing that free market capitalism works better than mercantilism, feudalism, socialism, or communism. We see that technology development occurs faster under free markets than under government controlled markets. We have come farther in the past dozen years under the commercial space paradigm than we had in the previous four dozen years under the government-control paradigm.

    America now has more operational launch companies than a dozen years ago, and they are providing lower cost services. America has far more companies producing products for use in space and producing services that use data generated in space, and it is millionaires and billionaires that have led the way.

  • pzatchok

    The best tech part of the flight is the fact that SpaceShioOne is a carbon fiber spacecraft.
    It has little metallic structure in the body.

    Could this tech be scaled up to make fast light cheap cargo pods to ship stuff to any new space stations.

    Obviously not the airplane and VG launch style. but could it be strong enough to stack on a normal style launcher?

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “Could this [carbon fiber spacecraft] tech be scaled up to make fast light cheap cargo pods to ship stuff to any new space stations. Obviously not the airplane and VG launch style. but could it be strong enough to stack on a normal style launcher?

    Not just cargo pods, but SpaceX considered carbon composite material for the body of its Starship. The choice of steel allowed for each test unit to be built quickly, so that lessons could be incorporated quickly during development. Once they have Starship operational, they or another company could develop a carbon composite version, similar to SpaceShipTwo, for better operational performance. It is one of the areas that is available for improvement.

    Making cargo pods, similar to those used on aircraft or on container ships, could be a very useful way to quickly load and unload Starship and other spacecraft that have short turnaround times, similar to aircraft and ships. Making them of composites could make them light weight, but they would need to be handled more carefully than our current metal containers, because composites tend to be strong but can be fragile, if it is thin (lightweight).

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