To the moon, Alice! - Michael Davis

It's good to finally see private enterprise entering the long-ended "space race."

Wednesday, as we know, a group of people got together and launched one of the first privately funded missions to space. In June, they became the first to make the private trip.

The craft, taking off from its position attached to a plane, soared through the sky, spinning as if it were rotating on a skewer, but made it, technically, into outer space some 62 miles up.

Plans are to have another launch within two weeks and claim a prize of $10 million.

Designers are confident that SpaceShipOne, as the rocket-propelled plane is called, will make the return flight.

A group called the X Prize Foundation in St. Louis is putting up the prize money.

Some kid has already put a down payment on what the space travelers say will be a $100,000 ticket to take a spin on the plane.

He told TV news cameras that flights such as the recent space jaunt will open up a "galaxy" of possibilities.

Who can forget the possibilities that our own federally funded space program opened up?

Tang, for example, is rumored to be a drink of choice of American astronauts and orange-faced 10-year-olds alike. The powdered punch came from a research and design team run by NASA.

And those nifty pens that can write upside down and under water. They look space-aged enough – a short rounded cylinder with a pocket clip. They really write well though. My roommate in college had one.

A Web site called Space Place lists some of the lesser-known results of the space race.

For example, the bar coding system now used by supermarkets, CD manufacturers and just about every other retail enterprise. The Web site reports that NASA engineers used it to keep track of the millions of spacecraft parts.

The smoke detector was also a NASA contribution to American homeowners. Used in 1973 to detect toxic vapors in the air of spacecraft, the smoke detector now is used to wake us up if our houses catch on fire.

One invention no longer with us is edible toothpaste. NASA scientists apparently developed it so that astronauts didn't have to spit in space. But the Web site reports it's no longer on the market, leaving open the question: how do they brush their teeth now?

But let us not forget some of the more useful tools that have come about because of the space program.

Some of the materials now used in firefighter suits were first developed for use in space suits. The flame-retardant material now keeps our firefighters safe when they come into our homes after our smoke detectors have gone off.

NASA also helped develop what are now our TV satellite dishes. I don't have one but I've heard they're pretty cool, except when it's cloudy.

Just imagine what could be on the horizon now as even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has ponied up some money to work on the project. What other wonderful "galaxy" of inventions could be just around the corner.

If you'd like to check out more space stuff, visit http://www.spaceplace.ipl.nasa.gov .

Michael Davis covers government for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at mdavis@henryherald.com .