Elon Musk now has the fastest car in the solar system. His Tesla red Roadster is on a multi-million mile track racking up more miles then all the 24 Hours of Le Mans combined. The problem is there is nobody racing him. It is believed that his roadster is about 1.3 million miles from Earth and heading to Mars at more than 43,000 mph.
There has been a lot of talk about privatizing space exploration. If privatizing space is a goal what is needed is a real space race like the Daytona 500. It could be the Mars Intergalactic 300.
Racing or exploration requires funding. Christopher Columbus had to shop his idea of getting to India by going west for years before he found any takers. It was not until a couple of Spanish royals put up the money for his journey that fell well short of India but opened up a whole new world to the Old World.
The first English colony in North America was privately funded. The Virginia Company was a joint stock company, the granddaddy of today’s corporation. The problem the Virginia Company faced was the start up cost of getting a colony up and running. This was a Herculean task considering the company was out looking for gold but found starvation instead.
But it was also is a need for speed. Jamestown was out of communication with its investor for at least six months out of the year. A trip back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean was always an iffy proposition — just ask those who were involved in the lost Roanoke colony. It put the Jamestown Colony in financial distress from the beginning. It was quickly going down for the third time when King James decided that his friends and investors, and his name sake endeavor, were to big to sink into the Virginia swamps. James’ investment in keeping the company from going up in smoke paid off handsomely later when tobacco became Virginia’s first cash crop.
Once it was realized that money could be made, Europeans made for their sailing ships and started out on the open seas in what some history books call a search for God, gold and glory. Deep space exploration, however, is different. Just existing in a space environment is a serious life challenge and not as easily over come as seen at the movies or on TV.
The race to space started in October 4, 1957 when the Russians chucked an 184 pound Sputnik satellite into low Earth orbit. From there it was a race to put the first man in space with the eventual goal of getting to the Moon. In all actuality it did not start until 1962 when President John Kennedy dropped the starter’s flag in the race to the Moon.
Unlike the New World, the Moon did not yield the same sort of riches that Columbus and other early explorers sought out. Going to the Moon was a scientific expedition. Six Apollo missions brought back almost 850 pounds of rocks but no gold. This was several tons short of what the Spanish could haul out of the New World on one ship. But maybe some where in a far away galaxy there is a planet called El Dorado where gold flows like lava out of volcano. That would jump start a space race.
Gold might be a little more problematic and closer to Earth on Mars but still well out of reach. Recent Lunar probes indicate the possibility of water and other compounds on the moon. But anything of value might as well literally be on its dark side.
Another difference with Old World exploration and space explorations is that there are no alien heathens to convert. Early religious zealots took a keen interest in converting those they though were godless.
As for Glory, Musk has basked in blasting a red roadster into space but that is not the same thing as racing to the moon. His launch created a lot of interest but it could soon be a a faded dream. Who now can name more than half of the of the 12 men who have walked on the Moon. The last man left the Moon when Apollo 17 ‘s Lunar Module blasted off its surface in December of 1972.
What is needed for future space exploration is a genuine space race with a need for speed. Forget about exploration for the time being. Let’s get some guys ready to race some real space roadsters across the solar system.
In the early days it was just two countries, the United States and the USSR, that were locked in the race to the Moon much like Spain, England and France were vying for New World colonies in the 15th and 16th Century. Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took that one giant leap or small step, the space race for all practical purposes was over.
This is not to say space exploration has stopped because it has moved forward in a methodical scientific way. The only real competition was to see what science experiment could be packed on the limited space available on the Space Shuttle or to see who would replace who on the three-person International Space Station.
But space exploration is about the long haul. The Cassini–Huygens mission took 20 years to complete and was a combined effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency ending in September of 2017 after Cassini dove through the rings of Saturn plunging into the ringed-planet’s atmosphere.
But in today’s world of instantaneous gratification 20 years is a dog’s life and then some. What is needed is another race that captures the need for speed and the competitive imagination of an interested audience, and not necessarily a race to plant a flag on Mars. But an honest, down to Earth drag race or NASCAR/ Formula 1 circuit with sponsors and a winner’s purse to the victor.
Look what racing has done for the car. Henry Ford’s Model T was one of the first affordable cars but speed was not really one of its attributes. It’s 20 horse power, 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) inline four-cylinder engine could muster a top speed of 40–45 mph. This is a far cry from the 200 mph some high performance cars can reach today.
According to the website Fastest Cars Zero to 60Times there are only a handful of cars that can boast getting to 60 mph in under two seconds. One of the cars is the prototype 2020 Tesla roadster that is boasting getting to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds and boogieing down the quarter-mile drag strip in 8.8 seconds.
Auto racing has given the car Anti-lock brakes, aerodynamic design, fuel injection, dual overhead cams and semi-automatic electrohydraulic transmissions just to name a few innovations that supply the need for speed. If man is going to conquer the final frontier, it is going to be a need for speed. What better way than to open up space to team racing. We need race teams that will come up with propulsion systems that put space beyond impulse power and into hyper-drive or at least to warp factor 1.
Scientists, space nerds and computer geeks could gather from around the world to design space crafts much like air craft designers and manufacturers did in the 1950’s to come up with a plane that could break the sound barrier. Its the need for speed.
It appears that we are at the same sort of stage in transportation that explorers faced in crossing the vast expanses of Earth’s oceans during 15th Century. Early explorers were subject to the seasonal winds and weather. Their journey’s were confined to what could be stowed on board small ships with schedule stops for resupply for long journeys. Distances were conquered with bigger and faster ships with dependable mechanical propulsion making sailing against the wind possible.
If man is to reach out farther into space, the need for speed is needed in covering those vast distances of outer space.