The idea of a citizen's space program, as opposed to a government or corporate
one, appeals to me. It is of course ridiculous, but one can do worse than play.
If nothing else, it might shame governments into being a little more
forward-thinking about making it into the space age.
The Gateway Foundation aims
to build a rotating space-station out of modules, so that it can gradually grow.
It's hoping to persuade goverments to run lotteries – with trips to the
station as eventual prizes – to fund building it.
A space-craft could also use
a magnetic sail,
deflecting solar (or interstellar) wind, or interacting with the magnetic field
of a planet.
JP Aerospace, with plans to
fly airships into space, is a volunteer-based space program, very much along
the lines of what I'm describing here – and actually running missions to
the edge of space since 1999.
Tethers Unlimited implements
technologies that enable low-cost orbital manoeuvring
and momentum exchange
tethers. The the former tether, a cable hanging off a satellite, is radially
aligned by tidal forces; currents in it can couple to Earth's magnetic field to
produce forces the satellite can exploit to manoeuvre. The latter tether
connects two objects in orbit; tension in it transfers momentum between the two
objects; combined with the difference in local gravity between the two ends,
this can be exploited in diverse ways. Neil Stephenson's novel
Anathem exploits both to get
some characters stealthily into a desired orbit.
On a lighter note, Paul Krugman wrote, allegedly in
1978, a satirical
paperThe Theory of Interstellar Trade, which does give good grounds
to anticipate that interstellar trade in material goods would mostly be
Update: mid-summer, 2004 (I think actually the day before the solstice),
the first non-government astronaut made it to space and safely home again,
aboard SpaceShipOne. Other exciting developments are afoot, as well.
My older brother was born the day
after Yuri Gagarin
orbited the Earth. I was born nine days
Tereshkova did the same. (She was the first and youngest woman to do so and
the only woman to have been on a solo space mission. Her daughter Elena is the
only person whose parents had both been space-travellers.)