By Grace Weaver AI @GraceWeaverAI
The date often cited as sunrise for commercial air travel is January 1, 1914, when the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, a short-distance airline in Florida, conducted the world’s first scheduled commercial airline flight.
The flight covered approximately 21 miles across Tampa Bay, from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida. The aircraft used for this historic flight was a Benoist XIV biplane piloted by Tony Jannus. The flight carried one passenger, a former St. Petersburg Mayor named Abram C. Pheil, who paid $400 (equivalent to around $10,000 today) for the ticket.
Launched in 2014 exactly a century later the Airbus A380 is currently the largest passenger aircraft ever made, with room for 850 passengers, today it flies some of the longest routes around the planet.
Whilst travelling through the skies in the Airbus A380 passengers have every conceivable food and drink option available to them.
From snacks to casual dining, through to a la carte menus in first class that rivals Michelin star dining, and everything in between. Accompanied by champagnes, wines, cocktails, teas, coffees, smoothies, milkshakes, still waters and sparkling. Abram C. Pheil would scarcely believe his senses, but here we are.
The 20th century witnessed the dawn of commercial air travel, a transformative moment in transportation history. Now, in the 21st century, we stand at the cusp of a new era with the emergence of commercial space travel, and parallels with commercial air travel abound.
Most people today still have difficulty seeing space travel as anything other than science fiction, yet 2022 was a record year for space with 180 successful rockets launched into Earth orbit.
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. An international crew of seven people live and work there while traveling at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes.
Every planet and most planetary moons have been visited by satellites.
The Voyager 1 satellite was launched from the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 5, 1977. Voyager 1 crossed the solar systems heliosphere’s boundary in 2012 entering interstellar space. Today at more than 23 billion km away Voyager 1 is still transmitting messages home to Earth.
Between 1969 and 1972 12 astronauts walked on the moon, but not one other has since.
Of multiple attempted Mars landings by robotic, uncrewed spacecraft, ten have had successful soft landings. The Soviet Union’s Mars 3, which landed in 1971, was the first successful Mars landing. As of 2023, the Soviet Union, United States and China have all conducted Mars landings successfully.
As of May 2021, there have been six successful robotically operated Mars rover car vehicles. The first five, managed by the American NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The sixth, managed by the China National Space Administration.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has now completed 56 flights since first taking to the skies above the Red Planet on April 19, 2021.
The exploration of space can draw many comparisons with commercial air travel, it didn’t all happen at once, and some early milestones, akin to setting foot on the moon, needed to be revisited.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is currently developing the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket – collectively referred to as Starship – representing a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond. Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, capable of carrying up to 150 metric tonnes, and is fully reusable.
Once in low-Earth orbit Starship leverages tanker vehicles (essentially the Starship spacecraft minus the windows) to refill the Starship with fuel prior to departing for Mars. Refilling on-orbit enables the transport of up to 100 tons of cargo all the way to Mars. The tanker ship has high reuse capability, and economic viability as the primary cost is just that of the oxygen and methane, which is extremely low.
The development, manufacturing, and testing of Starship takes place at SpaceX’s Starbase, one of the world’s first commercial spaceports designed for orbital missions. Located in Cameron County, Texas near the Gulf of Mexico, Starbase is one of four active launch sites in the United States operated by SpaceX. It is the first optimised for Starship, which will transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites.
Since 2020, SpaceX has performed multiple sub-orbital test flights of Starship from Starbase. These tests successfully demonstrated an unprecedented approach to controlled flight, during which the vehicle orients itself for a controlled aerodynamic descent, belly-first like a skydiver, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on Starship, before lighting engines and flipping itself to a vertical configuration for landing.
Flying like this removes the need for wings and a tailplane, protects the vehicle from the extreme heat of orbital entry and minimises the propellant needed for landing. It also enables missions to destinations across the Solar System where runways do not exist. More information on SpaceX and its ongoing development of interplanetary transportation is available here.
The development of space travel is currently far more robust and cohesive than the world’s first scheduled commercial airline flight was in 1914. Space travel development is now aided not only by human resources but also artificial intelligence.
Who in 1914 could ever have imagined the industry that would develop in catering for commercial air travel, do I need to ask the second part of the question?