Space Commerce

When Do I Get to Go? A Review of “See You In Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight”

By Keith Cowing
December 2, 2019
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When Do I Get to Go? A Review of “See You In Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight”
See You In Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight
Alan Ladwig

Do you want to fly into space? Do you know someone who does? If so then this book is worth reading. “See You In Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight” by Alan Ladwig presents a comprehensive look by a space insider into the history of what space travel means to people.
It details how individuals, space agencies, and companies have sought to give more people a chance to visit space.

In essence personal space travel has always been a factor in what we’ve done in space even if it was impractical. Efforts to expand the cadre of people going into space started before we even sent people into space and have continued ever since. Eventually some of these efforts caught on. To be certain there was always internal resistance as there was resistance from the outside as to who should go into space – and why. Now, nearly 3/4 of a century after we first threw things into space the dream of personally seeing space is as vibrant as ever. But now the ability to realize that dream is within the grasp of people who’d never have been offered a ride before.

Alas, this involves large sums of money and limits who gets to go. The eternal hope is that somehow this first generation of space tourists or spaceflight participants or commercial astronaut-passengers or whatever you want to call them will spur the development of more capabilities. In turn this surge of customer demand will somehow lead to a drop in the price of a ticket to space such that everyday citizens can anticipate a trip into space – for whatever reason propels them to do so. As to when that breakthrough happens, it seems to be getting closer than it has ever been but it is still illusively just out of reach.

I am a child of the early space age – the first generation to know of space travel as reality – not as fantasy. As described in Ladwig’s book we all peppered NASA with letters asking for a ride into space. I wrote NASA in grammar school. And again in high school. And yet again in college. Somehow I first met Alan ladwig (and Leonard David) in 1974 when they were running a non-profit called FASST that had some small grants to do some student-based space publications. I stayed in regular touch with Alan over the past half century as we both moved in and out of NASA and the private sector – always with space as our touchstone.

Eventually I ended up serving on the board of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education with Alan which was the completion of an arc of sorts – one that began when I was a young child who stayed home sick every single time a crew was launched into space. You see, on the day Challenger was lost I was a teacher and was preparing to go to teach a class and listened to the launch – and the loss – on the radio from my desk. Alan was part of these things all coming full circle for me.

Much of what Alan writes about has to do with NASA’s various education programs – whether it is flying student payloads in space – or flying teachers. In recent years the interest in education at NASA has come under attack from those who would eliminate the office that engages in student outreach and shift the funds elsewhere. Luckily wiser minds have prevailed – but this assault on NASA education efforts happens on an annual basis and the fight is becoming ever-harder to fight.

While NASA is not formally chartered to “inspire” – it does – sometimes in spite of NASA’s efforts to try and make the things that it does seem routine. NASA always has been inspirational and hopefully it always will be. The scope and breadth of the letters Alan talks about receiving over the decades certainly bears this out.

In reading this book I saw much that was familiar and a surprising amount that was not. I lived through these same times and events in the space community with Alan – as have many others. It’s nice to read a space book these days that actually teaches me something. For space people like Alan and I this dream of flying into space propelled us for decades. It may fade from time to time but it then comes back quickly. It is never extinguished. And if we find ourselves at a point in life when we realize that we may never reach space ourselves, it becomes incumbent upon us to help others do so – either in person or through their payloads – and then sniff the fumes of their rocket exhaust and experience space vicariously through them.

This book reveals one core theme of space exploration: despite the science, and policy directives, and all of the commercial hot air, it has always been about one singular thing: going there ourselves to see what it is like to be there. I am hoping that Alan will write a revised edition a decade hence wherein he talks about his own flight into space to see what it is like to be there.

If you are like Alan and I and year to fly into space then read this book. Who knows it might give you the right angle to convince someone to fly you into space. Wouldn’t that be cool.

In the mean time, I just want to know when I get to go. I only need 24 hours notice.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.