Monday, May 16, 2011

Sports in Space? Why Not?

Growing up, I had dreams of becoming an astronaut. If you’re of a certain age, you probably had those same dreams, too. You looked up to those magnificent men in their flying machines and wanted to be one of them.

You knew you had to do: study the hard sciences, be disciplined physically, emotionally, and mentally, be the best person you could become and then, maybe, you could join the ranks of the most technically advanced pioneers the world has ever known. Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong, Aldrin, and many others were names you knew and revered.

You wanted to be like them and boldly go where no one had ever gone before.

Today’s final launch of Shuttle Endeavor is sad for many reasons, not the least among them is the fact that we’ve seemingly lost our national zeal for exploration. Not us as a people, or a race. Humans have an inner thirst for new and untried things to do and places to explore.

That was once an integral part of what made us Americans. We did new things. We proposed new ideas and new ways of doing them. We had leadership that embraced true technological progress, progress that resulted in the greatest elevation of mankind the world has ever known. The technological advancements from our space program gave us new products and innovative ways of looking at the world. Satellites, computers and Tang were but small part of the Space Age. Science fiction became facts of everyday life.

Alas, we no longer have that type of leadership in Washington today. It’s not that our national quest for adventure has waned; those we send to Washington today seem more enamored with petty things through which to gain power and control, not a grand vision of mankind elevated. We are diminished as a result of sending such small-minded people to act on our behalf.

Speaking of our space program in the past tense is depressing as hell.

We must now depend on our biggest competitor for our access to low Earth orbit. Russia will now assume the duties that we once did, servicing the Space Station that we developed, financed and put into orbit. They recently raised their price for their services, unsurprisingly. A lack of competition will do that.

So, while we ponder our next national move towards space, what will we do in the meantime? The moon is still waiting to be explored, as is Mars. We have the technology (to coin a phrase), but not the foresight or political will to continue our trek to the stars.

I have an idea.

Let’s create a sport for space. SpaceSport, we’ll call it for now. There could even be more than one of them.

It’s new, exciting, and would generate quite a bit of money and open up low Earth orbit to fans as space tourists. This would be all kinds of good.

And, it’s doable without any government money.

Just think of the possibilities. A worldwide television market. Merchandising on a truly grand scale. A permanent, private presence in space. Technological innovations that would truly make space flight as routine and inexpensive as jet travel. There’s more, the only limit would be our imagination.

Already, several private companies are poised to capitalize on space tourism with short-duration flights. Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Burt Rutan and others are leading the way in the privatization of space. Expectations are that businesses will start offering rides within a couple of years, perhaps sooner.

What could accelerate that better than SpaceSport? The absence of gravity will present its own challenge. Initial plans could be for a small, well-cushioned court for the players, a uniform with strategically placed patches of Velcro with which to remain stationary if desired (or maybe stay attached to a fellow player). A ball similar to a soft type of kickball could be used (although there’s no weight in space, there’s still mass – if you hit your head on something, it still hurts). Perhaps a large cylindrical tube with round goals at either end into which a ball could be thrown or banked to score. TV cameras could be placed in players’ helmets to show the action. Advancements in virtual reality could enable fans to see what players see, much like in-car cameras in motorsports, only better. The market for video games alone would be enormous. Possibilities abound.

Eventually, there could even be an arena with live spectators, who knows?

This could be the next step in space travel and exploration – sports.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like it. I've been considering this for years, and run a Yahoo! group on the subject of space sports. It's mostly dead, but it's there.