Our new issue — yes! subscribe! — contains a two-page Q&A I conducted with Eric C. Anderson. He has had a variety of tech and entrepreneurial identities, but I was speaking to him in his role as chairman and co-founder of Space Adventures, which has made a business of sending customers into space.
The subject of our discussion was the future of space travel. Below is an extended-play version of the interview, with extra questions and themes.
James Fallows: Space exploration seems to have lost its hold on the public imagination, compared with a generation ago.
Eric Anderson: I think absolutely they are right to feel a little bit disappointed. On April 12, 1961, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, goes to space. Then, July 29, 1969: We're on the moon. If you and I were doing this interview on July 30, 1969 and you had asked me what space exploration would be like in the year 2013, I would've told you it would be far more advanced than it is now.
So I think the reality is that space was unnaturally accelerated by this Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1960s. Then, in the early part of the '70s, that sort of slowed down. The latter half of the '70s brought terrible economic trouble in the U.S., which really set the space program way back. In the '80s, it was the reverse. The Soviets basically ran out of money and then the Soviet Union collapsed. Then in the '90s we were sort of figuring out how to re-set ourselves in a post-Soviet world. It was in the mid-'90s that commercial revenues in space started to eclipse government revenues—that was mainly for communication satellites and things like that.