The last few days I’ve been planning a business trip to Cape Canaveral, FL for some integrated testing. I’ve had to talk to a travel agent, get permission to go on base, clear up all my credentials, take some training courses. When all’s said and done, I will be in another state for a few things, some fires will be put out, confidence will be built, and I’ll be on my way. Unexpected things might happen, and I might get delayed or interrupted, but once I’ve taken that first step to the airport, it’s all downhill and reactionary.
During all this, something occurs to me that is simultaneously frightening and amazing: In 50 years (or less) we might have manufacturing plants in orbit around Earth. Someone of the next generation may be doing the very same song and dance, but instead of going across the country, they’ll be traveling to LEO. There will be fires to be put out, tests to be run, confidence to be built. Millions of miles above the Earth’s surface. There might be orbiting universities where you can get accepted based on SAT scores and physical results. There might even be some sort of Space Amusement Park for weekend getaways.
Is this real life?
Astronauts are selected for their well-rounded skill set, and trained for years to become familiar with a system they didn’t, or couldn’t, design. Astronauts have to represent their country and follow the directions of thousands of people and do science experiments for others, planned out to the minute. This couldn’t be further from the truth of how business works in commercial industries: Chief architects of complex systems, or business consultants with a wide range of experiences in the field, are flown in. As temporary employees, they are paid to fix the problems and be on their way as soon as possible. Researchers build their own test beds and operate them because they want to know why the Universe works the way it does. If they have to go into the field to get the best results, they do it. Having to run an experiment over the phone or webcam would be borderline insulting.
Can you imagine being an Orbital manufacturing consultant? I just did. There are thousands of job titles right now that may seem nonexistent, or laughably specialized and niche. If all goes well, and if the vision of a few reaches out to touch the many, jobs as mundane on Earth as “Garbage collector” or “Landscaper” can become “Suborbital waste management expert” or “Orbital horticultural technician”. These necessary but unheard-of roles leap off the pages of science fiction and into reality, as soon as commercial space actually goes commercial.