22 January 2006

Large Art

If you're ever flying east of Austin, TX, look for this landmark. A land owner carved his last name, "Luecke," out of trees and bushes. The letters are half a mile high, and the word is two and a half miles long, big enough that it can occasionally be seen from the Space Shuttle as it passes overhead. I saw it for the first time about a decade ago as I flew a DC-10 from Orlando to Los Angeles. From 39,000 feet, it was so big it startled me. (The photo above simulates what it would look like from 60,000 feet up!)

Google Earth allows you to zoom in on the carving and examine it in great detail. The closer you get, the more you appreciate the work that went into creating it, and how utterly huge the thing is.

Isn't it amazing what some people do with their spare time?

12 January 2006

Government Killing Aviation Downunder

The Australian government has killed another aviation business, this time an aerial safari company whose tours were on my list of Things to Do in Life. Read about it on the business' own website.

We have to be vigilant here in the U.S. for this kind of misunderstanding about General Aviation. There are more than a few politicians who'd like to see every airplane that's not a business jet or airliner grounded permanently. It can only happen if we let it happen.

02 January 2006

Incredible Words from an Incredible Bureaucracy

Let's imagine, for a minute, that you're a successful business person, a wealthy adventurer, or just an average person with big dreams. (Maybe you already are, in which case you'll be even more interested in this.)

You learn about the rapid advances in technology which have allowed private Space Tourism to begin blossoming as an actual, viable endeavor. You watch in fascination as Burt Rutan and his talented crew from Scaled Composites devolop Space Ship One and win the Ansari X-Prize by launching it to the edge of space (not just once, but several times!). Every week, it seems, you read about some new effort to develop a private spaceplane. You dream about the day when you might be able to actually buy a ticket for such a flight. You learn that Rutan is, right now, developing Space Ship Two, a commercial space plane, and that several others are close to actually taking advance reservations for suborbital flights.

You're a smart person, though. You know that despite the apparent ease with which these first, fledgling privately-funded steps into space have taken place, anything involving space travel will come with inherent risks. You know that a million things can happen. However, you're savvy enough and intelligent enough to weigh the risks against the rewards, and you decide for yourself that the risks and financial costs are worth it. To see the blackness of space, view the majesty of the curvature of the earth, and feel the freedom of Zero-G while you take in a spectacular view of our home planet would be an experience beyond words.

You'd be forgiven for laughing out loud (or maybe crying) if you read the FAA's recently proposed regulations for space flight. Someone out there might be able to wade though its weighty 120 pages and count the number of times that it addresses "Release of Liability," but I don't have the patience to do so.

Its final irony -- the paragraph that brings the lofty endeavor and magnificence of spaceflight right down to ground level, as only the FAA could do -- is the final one. Here it is:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Federal Register: December 29, 2005
Docket Number FAA-2005-23449

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.
ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants

Sec. 460.53 Security.

An operator must implement security requirements to prevent any space flight participant from jeopardizing the safety of the flight crew or the public. A space flight participant may not carry on board any explosives, firearms, knives, or other weapons.

Issued in Washington, DC, on December 22, 2005.

Patricia G. Smith
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation.
[FR Doc. 05-24555 Filed 12-23-05; 10:26 am]

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Kinda brings a lump to your throat, doesn't it?

Thanks, FAA, for reminding us that travel in any kind of moving conveyance is a dangerous activity, and for looking out for the safety of future space travelers who might be tempted to bring along a sidearm, or maybe some fireworks, to celebrate their $200,000 trip to the edge of the atmosphere. We'll all feel much safer about the experience now.