I've been studying and thinking about Charles Lindbergh the last few months. The 25 years or so following his solo flight across the Atlantic are sometimes referred to as "The Lindbergh Boom". There was an explosion of air travel right after that time. It's amazing to think about how fast things changed in the 1930s and 40s.
One thing that I've been tossing around in my head as I've been studying this is whether Lindbergh's flight was a catalyst for mass change, or more like an indicator and rallying point. Right after his flight there was a huge publicity movement including a 3 month tour across the country.
Just two weeks after his flight, Clarence Chamberlin and Charles Levine flew from New Work to Eiselben Germany, almost 300 miles further than Lindbergh. A few weeks after that 3 men flew the same journey as Lindbergh although they crashed in a field just outside of Paris (they survived). This is an indication that the industry may have been just bursting at the seams with innovation and Charles just happened to be first by a small margin.
Rallying points ARE important though, and he was definitely that for an entire generation and more.
On Saturday night I was talking to a group of people who, like so many others, forgot that we still fly in space. It doesn't take much to gather a crowd around you when you can enthusiastically declare that we'll be doing much more space exploration in the next 10 years then we have in the previous 40.
One question I was asked on Saturday was: "What's different about today? What is the catalyst for change at this particular point in time?"
The answer which I hadn't REALLY thought about in such simple terms until asked that particular question at a dinner party was SpaceX.
He has been succeeding at this splendidly. Costs to orbit are on the order of 1/10th of what they have been until this point and they are just getting started.
Think for a second about what that means... when you can do serious space operations for 75 million dollars instead of a billion dollars, things change. This number is well within the reach of many many more people than a billion dollars.
People are starting to ask themselves what their space strategy is.
Now I know you're saying "But what about space tourism?"
Space tourism is AWESOME. But it's more of an indicator than a catalyst itself.
The driver of change is drastic reduction in cost without losing the reliability and performance you'd expect from a more expensive solution.
This is a huge developent for both entrepreneurs and governments. Imagine if scientists at NASA could do all the research they wanted because everything just got chopped 90% in cost.
Hold on to your hats!