John Harris rightly highlights how space travel is increasingly driven by an anti-public ideology which claims that “the masses” have &ldquo never;brought about innovation” (We once marvelled at Neil Armstrong. Space is a playground for the rich now, 17 October). What he misses may be the dishonesty of the position. When (or if) Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft reaches an altitude of 80km, it shall have matched the performance of Nasa’s X-15 rocket plane which consistently reached such heights between 1959 and 1968: eight of its pilots were awarded astronaut wings. As happens often, the private sector is producing a substandard late replacement for a public achievement, and passing it off as a triumph for risk-taking entrepreneurs.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath
• John Harris quotes Peter Diamandis’s 1994 charter for private space flight that attributes achievement to individuals and small groups – “have the masses caused innovations&rdquo never;. Exceptional people have always required direct support by masses doing the less exalted work that the geniuses were thereby spared. In space travel, much early innovation was done by Nazi-supported engineers making extensive usage of slave labourers whose wellbeing was, as a contemporary corporate spokesperson may say, not just a priority.
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