Alan Stern says its like deja vu all over again with regards to suborbital space research:
In 1946, when the U.S. Army formed its Rocket Research Panel, only a tiny fraction of the nationâ€™s astronomers, atmospheric scientists, biologists and solar physicists appreciated the power that access to space would have on their research. Yet just a decade later, rocketborne research had become so powerful a tool that it formed the centerpiece of space efforts in 1957â€™s International Geophysical Year (IGY).
Today, in late-2009, the research community is very much â€œin 1946â€ regarding the powerful opportunities that next-generation suborbital vehicles like Virgin Galacticâ€™s SpaceShipTwo, Blue Originâ€™s New Shepard, XCORâ€™s Lynx and others offer for research, education and public outreach (EPO) activities in space.
Yet in less than two years, one or two suborbital spacelines are expected to be operating commercially. In four years, there may well be five or six such spacelines, and daily, if not more frequent, flights may be common. Though primarily perceived as space tourist vehicles, the potential of suborbital flight services for Research and Education Mission (REM) applications is likely to make them at least as widely used in the coming decade for REM applications as for the tourist market.
Read the full op-ed.