Free to Soar . . . for Now

WASHINGTON–“This past Monday bore witness to the achievements possible to man when he is left free,” says Jeff Scialabba, a writer with the Ayn Rand Center. “In a hangar in the Mojave Desert, Sir Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Galactic lifted the veil off Space Ship Two, the world’s first commercial spacecraft. Space Ship Two will take passengers to a height of 68 miles above Earth, well beyond the recognized border of space. It is one of a number of private spacecraft being developed in the nascent space tourism industry, which will make it possible for private citizens to experience wonders previously reserved for government astronauts.

“What kinds of government restrictions are in place for space tourism? Compared to other industries, relatively few so far. The government considers space tourism distinct from airline travel, which leaves the companies developing these spacecraft free from many of the onerous federal taxes and regulations that have hampered the airline industry since the 1930s. The individuals driving space tourism have been able to pursue their dreams without excessive interference–and they’re beginning to achieve them.

“That freedom may not last. The federal rules governing space tourism are up for review in 2012. Should the government stay out, the possibilities are limitless. Tickets that are now priced at the level of a small house may one day drop to the level of a month’s rent, and our children may experience space travel as we experience flying. Mr. Branson already has visions of suborbital transcontinental travel–on the order of Los Angeles to Australia, in two hours.

“Mr. Branson is well aware of one major threat to his transforming that vision into reality. The man who built his own spaceship does not qualify his dreams for future development with ‘subject to advances in technology’ or ‘subject to capital investment.’ He qualifies them with ‘subject to American government permission.'”