September 20, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Restaurant at end of universe not so far off

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Forget pigs, we're headed into the age of Starbucks in space.

According to entrepreneurs and government officials at the Space 2006 conference here, tourists rocketing into suborbit in the coming years will need to get caffeinated somehow.

To wit: The theme at the three-day space-exploration conference is commercializing space exploration, and many executives and government officials here are hashing out the viability of such a proposition. The list of speakers reflects as much. Everyone from search giant Google to space-tourism outfits Virgin Galactic and SpaceX is here.

And if NASA's recent bout of private-industry initiatives is any indication, the dawn of a new space economy is under way.

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"For us to realize the sustainability of space exploration, we've got to explore how we can leverage the private sector. That is the byword at NASA," said Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames Research Center, while delivering an opening address Tuesday at the annual conference.

That the conference is being held in Silicon Valley for the first time is no coincidence. NASA has lined up many partnerships with entrepreneurs and technology companies in the area, including Mountain View, Calif.-based Google. According to Worden, the technology and venture capital prowess here in Silicon Valley will be essential to the coming space age.

In what many called a milestone for the industry, NASA in August awarded nearly $278 million to El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), as well as $207 million to Oklahoma-based Rockplane Kistler, to build new commercial flight systems for the International Space Station over the next four years, under a project known as the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). NASA and SpaceX (a venture backed by Paypal co-founder Elon Musk) also have a two-year deal to research space tourism possibilities.

"We're talking about building a new commercial space economy."
--Chris Kemp, director of strategic business development at NASA Ames Research Center

"We're talking about building a new commercial space economy," said Chris Kemp, director of strategic business development at NASA Ames.

In the mold of a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, NASA Ames has also started a private equity fund called Red Planet Capital, which will fund small start-ups in the fields of nanotechnology, robotics, intelligent systems and high-speed networking to support future commercial space flight.

As for Google, NASA announced a high-profile alliance with the search giant in September 2005, but few details were given at the time. Nearly a year later, the two organizations are close to finalizing a so-called Space Act agreement, according to Kemp, who oversees the alliance for NASA.

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14 comments

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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.

Ross
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
Imagine...
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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