Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not a surprise for some reason

Imagine reading an article on private spaceflight in New York magazine and coming across this interesting tidbit (emphasis mine):
Virgin Galactic’s CEO is a 39-year-old American named George Whitesides, who I met one evening after ISPCS. The son of a legendary chemist, he is himself a nonscientist who decided to devote his life to space one night in Tunisia, while studying women’s rights in the Islamic world on a Fulbright scholarship, when he found himself walking on the shore of the Mediterranean beneath an impossibly starry sky. He’s worked for Virgin for three years—recruited by Branson from NASA, where he served as the administrator’s chief of staff—but has been a customer for almost a decade: He and his wife, self-described “space geeks,” were among the first to set down a combined $400,000 for Virgin’s then-rather-speculative flights. It was meant, even at the time, to be a delayed honeymoon. 
George Whitesides (the senior?) is known to all as a character -- somehow not a surprise that his son would be radically different as well.

[The article is worth a read -- sounds like private spaceflight will be interesting and off-beat. I am, for the most part, a techno-optimist; I think that trends have always been towards popularizing technology that was initially only accessible to the very wealthy. All of that to say that I think that more people will be able to experience spaceflight than we ever imagined.] 

8 comments:

  1. " while studying women’s rights in the Islamic world on a Fulbright scholarship, when he found himself walking on the shore of the Mediterranean beneath an impossibly starry sky"

    That does sound like fun! Very close to my own grad school experience of spending evenings at a frigid, somewhat dilapidated, university in the frigid center of North America staring at rows and rows of test tubes that needed to be TLCed after having spent the day mixing EtOAc and hexane and watching the result cascade over pure sand at just the right rate. This was inevitably followed by a slight whoosing sound as the water aspirator engaged the vacuum in the rotovap, and I then sat in rapture as liter after liter of colorless solvent would condense into the receiving flask, and every so often I'd go dump it in the non-halogenated waste.

    Yup, it's like a page from my life.

    Good times, good times.....

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    1. looking for the 'like' function...

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    2. sounds like whitesides jr. is smarter than his dad

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  2. Okay, why do you have a scholarship when you can afford $200K/seat tickets? And if scientific skills are so easily transferred, what the hell kind of skills take you from women's studies to NASA admin to getting headhunted by Virgin?

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  3. It may not be scientific skill involved as suspect it may be an ability to tell a good story in order to raise money or influence people in power. Which is something Sr. is good at as well, where typically for the most part has put funding to use in pushing the boundaries of science. Perhaps overly stereotypical as many scientists are comfortable interacting with fellow technophiles yet do a poor job when it comes to communicating to public or executives and therefore likely one reason for apparent undervaluation.

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  4. Why does the momentum make the space plane accelerate to Mach 3 after the engine is turned off?

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    1. This sentence (and much of the rest of the article) is just very poorly written:
      "Following engine burnout, its momentum will continue its acceleration through Mach 2 and Mach 3 and, finally, above 62 miles, the Karman Line, the somewhat arbitrary delineation of space, above which an aircraft must travel faster than Earth’s orbital velocity to generate enough lift to stay aloft."

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  5. Where's my hoovercar?

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