I had a dream that they were finally going tear down Detroit’s spaceport. I went on one of the tours that people were giving during its final months.
The spaceport was built in the 1980s, and it was supposed to revitalize Detroit by giving it a new industry - consumer spaceflight and space tourism.
It was designed in this modernist style. The freeway drove right under the loading platform, so motorists could gawk at it even as they drove through town.
Space tourism wasn’t a big industry at that time. Indeed, people were just starting to imagine that space may be soon within the reach of the consumer. Building this spaceport was a big leap of faith for Detroit. It was very forward-thinking.
Indeed, as the spaceport was built, space-related industries started springing up in the Detroit area. Yet it didn’t look like any actual consumer spaceships would be ready in time for the opening of the spaceport. But that’s okay, the facility was designed to also host the standard fare of scientific and government launches. These would sustain the spaceport while the consumer industry got on its feet.
Detroit got the contract to launch some space shuttles out of there. People gathered to watch the first launch at the promising new facility.
Unfortunately, this was the ill-fated launch of the Challenger. Our tour guide pointed out some of the design flaws where our spaceport was over-engineered, which might have contributed to the disaster. For example, astronauts and cargo were both loaded into air-filled compartments. Before launch, the cargo bay had to be evacuated. Our guide said that newer loading facilities were built so that the cargo bay was already a vacuum when the cargo was loaded. This meant that the workers had to wear pressure suits to load the cargo. That didn’t feel sufficiently triumphant for the designers of the Detroit spaceport, so they built their loading dock to let workers load the ship at pressure, and then used a complicated method to evacuate a lot of air before the launch. (This wasn’t actually what failed in the case of the Challenger. It was just pointed out as typical of the over-engineering that went into this facility).
Anyway, after the Challenger disaster, the space bubble burst. Nobody was interested in investing in consumer spaceflight. All the engineering shops that had sprung up were forced to go out of business. Thus, the launch of the Challenger was the only launch that ever took place from the Detroit spaceport. It had stood empty for decades since then. Someone had plans to open up a restaurant there at one point, but it never went through. People talked about turning it into a convention center or something, but nobody could drum up the money.
Finally, Detroit decided to pay to tear it down to make the land more attractive to investors.
Sad to see it go.