Vol. 2, Issue 34, October 5, 2004
NASA Redefines Boundary of Space After SpaceShipOne Flights
In an apparent fit of institutional pique following SpaceShipOne's successful claim on the X-Prize, NASA has unexpectedly raised the official boundary of space to 150 miles above the Earth's surface.
"Obviously, going into outer space is a major endeavor which really ought to be left in the hands of our planet's only capable space agency; namely us," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "We congratulate the fine engineering which went into the production of this novelty plane dubbed 'SpaceShipOne,' but must point out with regret that it hasn't reached space yet by our standards."
SpaceShipOne is a privately funded, manned rocket ship powered with laughing gas and rubber fuel built by Scaled Composites. It reached the edge of suborbital space Monday - nearly 70 miles high - to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize, intended to spur private spaceflight. However, now that NASA has raised the boundary for space, SpaceShipOne is officially nothing more than a high-flying airplane.
"Well, let me tell you one thing: we're not giving back the prize money," said SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan. "We owe Paul Allen a lot of money, and frankly I don't want to mess with someone who's on Bill Gates' speed-dial list." Billionaire Allen earned his fortune with Microsoft, and reportedly invested over $20 million in the SpaceShipOne project.
"That price tag alone should be a warning sign to people," said O'Keefe. "Twenty million? That would barely cover the cost of the food on a typical NASA Space Shuttle flight."
NASA has come under heavy criticism recently for continuing to invest heavily in its aging fleet of Space Shuttles, which are notoriously expensive to operate and have experienced serious safety problems, including the loss of two shuttles to accidents.
"It's no coincidence that NASA set the "new" boundary of space just below the average altitude of typical Space Shuttle flights," said Rutan. "I would bet that, if we managed to reach an altitude of 150 miles, NASA would raise the boundary to 151."
It is unclear what effect the NASA announcement will have on the future of SpaceShipOne, or newly-founded company Virgin Galactic's plans to purchase a fleet of the craft to offer tourists brief visits to what was formerly considered outer space.
"I think we're going to move ahead with the plans anyway," said Virgin CEO Richard Branson. "I'll bet that people willing to pay $100,000 for a 20-minute flight that brings you back to the point you left from aren't going to be conversant with trivialities such as the legal definition of space."