September 20, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Restaurant at end of universe not so far off

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Kemp said that meshing Google's and NASA's cultures has been difficult, given natural differences in goals, but that the two organizations have tried to work out how to cross-pollinate their strengths on projects. For example, Google is trying to tap into terabytes of otherwise inaccessible data at NASA Ames and use the expertise of scientists at the research center. As a result, Google is exploring how to add other types of imagery to Google Earth. For example, users could open a map of their back yard and view compass points of magnetic north versus geographic north, according to Kemp.

"For Google, this is a way to take what NASA has and commercialize it," said Kemp.

Still, the economics of the alliance are still being worked out, like many other NASA private-industry initiatives, given government regulations and restrictions. Worden said during his speech that Google, for example, may hire NASA Ames for project development and research, but Kemp later alluded to the difficulty of such an undertaking.

A recent project by Google Earth to provide aerial imagery of Africa and the land destroyed by Hurricane Katrina required Google to write checks out to Carnegie Mellon University, which was working with NASA to produce the maps.

"There was no other way to see this happen," Kemp said. "People want to see this work better with commercial partners, but it takes the will to do it."

(Kemp spoke partly on behalf of Google Earth CTO Michael Jones, who missed his scheduled presentation.)

Still, some speakers at the conference expressed serious doubts about NASA's approach to private partnerships. Jim Muncy, president of space consulting practice PoliSpace, compared NASA's experience with the economics of private industry to that of an amphibian. He highlighted similar NASA commercial partnerships--such as one called Dreamtime that was designed to bring high-definition recorders to space--that were abandoned.

"NASA doesn't understand the economics," he said.

Nevertheless, many entrepreneurs are bulldozing forward.

Alex Tai, vice president of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's space-tourism venture, said during a morning panel that the company plans to launch two commercial flights a day beginning in late 2008 or early 2009. The company has already announced several booked flights on its SpaceShipTwo, which cost $200,000 each.

"Come with your $200,000. We'll take your money," he said.

George French, president of Rocketplane Kistler, said that the new space economy is coming about partially thanks to government funding in the form of the COTS program and partially thanks to the people he calls the "mega-angels," including Branson, Musk, founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who has backed Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne suborbital commercial spacecraft.

"Starbucks will be in space. Virgin will be in space," he said.

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Hate to be pedantic...
But "The Restaurant at the end of the Universe" wasn't at the
physical end (that doesn't exist), it was the chronological end of the
universe where Milliways could be found.

I know, I know... I'll go get a life now.

Posted by ross brown--2008 (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll join you...
I love his books and I saw the british mini series based on his books. It's really too bad that the american version of the movie turned out to be such crap. Some books don't translate well into movies.. Oh well.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
It's a nice dream, but . . .
I like space exploration as much as the next guy, but can we please
pay just a little more attention to qualitiy of life here on the home
planet? It's where those of us without the $200k for some hours in
orbit continue to live.

Hard to argue that our space program doesn't subsidize these
tourist ventures.
Posted by Mark Shapiro (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is the ONLY way....
If we focus on social programs and the quality of life here, we will never get ANYWHERE -- that is the road to stagnation and socialism.

Sadly, the only things the make the human race as a whole progress forward are profit & entertainment.

1) Space exploration will never advance unless someone can find a way to make money off of it. This is true for almost anything.
2) Other than "survival items" (food, etc), the only real high return money makers are entertainment related.
3) The primary source of initial entertainment related money are "early adopters" -- i.e. the bored rich (or geeks with no sense and lots of debt!).
4) Providing these entertainment items is what keeps the majority of us employed.
5) "Neat" entertainment projects are where about half the technology that makes everyones lives better originates from (and the other half usually started as a military project).

Additionally, we NEED space exploration -- and eventually expansion into space. We are rapidly using up Earths resources and even with perfect recycling and conservation, they WILL eventually run out. Similarly, throughout history, when one group of people couldn't stand the other, they left and went elsewhere (sometimes involuntarily) -- but anymore there are no empty places on Earth left to go to!

In other words we can:
1) Quit having babies -- ain't gonna happen.
2) Fix the standard of [low] living to a set level imperpetuity -- not a popular idea.
3) Quit using all our modern conveniences -- which would pretty much mandate #1 -- we can't support the number of people on Earth NOW without them.
4) Learn to live with each other and quit fighting -- yeah, right.

Or, develop somewhere else to get resources from, move polluting industries off planet, give people somewhere new to expand into, etc.

The choice is either (a) expand into space or (b) descend into a new dark age after the near inevitable collapse of civilization (when we run out of resources).
Posted by mdburkey (27 comments )
Link Flag
The world population is growing exponentially...
The population of China is?
At the rate we (the world) is growing, how long can we go without
being in each others faces?

Not to be alarmist here but think about it. Oil is not finite, our
natural resources are not finite. Rationing WATER is common.

Commercialization of space exploitation is a good idea.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Link Flag
World's oldest joke...
The food is good...
... but the place lacks 'atmosphere'!
Posted by Richard Schmidt (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft to take on space travel?
Oh, come on! They're trying to take on everything else.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I only wish I could live 100 years from now to see a city on the
moon, or...
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Imagine...
That's possible if medical science advances enough to increase our lifespan, not necessarily to live upto 100 years from now, but just enough to live until cryogenics develops. Then, we could just get frozen and wake up 100 or more years later, but I wouldn't really want to do that. Imagine.. I wouldn't know anyone alive, most probably, and would feel very disoriented, like a person from the Stone Ages.
Posted by AjoyBhatia (16 comments )
Link Flag
100 years?
The manner in which humanity and international politics are, now and in the foreseable future, 100 years doesn't seem like it will be enough time to finish the ISS, let alone build the first colonies on the moon.
Posted by make_or_break (3747 comments )
Link Flag
100 years?
The manner in which humanity and international politics are, now and in the foreseable future, 100 years doesn't seem like it will be enough time to finish the ISS, let alone build the first colonies on the moon.
Posted by make_or_break (3747 comments )
Link Flag
When do space tickets go on sale?
So far space tourism is for ONLY the rich and famous. What would you do to go to space? Would you play a silly game to win a trip to space? Would you build your own rocket and strap it to your rear end? Do you ever see yourself ever having the slightest chance of ever going to space? If you ever won a trip to space would you end up selling the ticket and pocket the cash? Do you want to go to the Moon?
Posted by eSpaceTickets (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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