Posts Tagged SpaceX

The Space Rush

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launchThey say space is the final frontier, and like all terran frontiers, people are rushing to claim it.

In a way, we’re in the midst of a space-exploration renaissance, with a bizarre mix of nations, corporations, and random billionaires looking to stake their claim in the heavens.

Earlier this week, China announced that it had landed a robotic rover named Jade Rabbit on the Moon, while Iran is sending monkeys into space. Its the 1960s all over again.

Meanwhile, a host of private entities are making their way into space, helmed by a list of names that looks like it was generated by a random search of Wired.com.

There’s Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is already delivering cargo to the International Space Station, and hopes to modify its Dragon capsule to carry human passengers.

Then there’s Jeff Bezos’ mysterious Blue Origin, which is testing rockets and capsules at a top secret facility in Texas. Is Bezos trying to explore the galaxy, or conquer it?

Other, less practical schemes include Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which hopes to send a few (very wealthy) tourists to the edge of space soon, and Mars One, which plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to the red planet. Don’t laugh: there are already 200,000 volunteers.

While it may seem haphazard and–at times–zany, this should be encouraging for those who believe space exploration is an important pursuit.

That’s because while we’re a long way from Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, space exploration is taking on the exact same tone as nearly everything else humans do on a large scale.

Exploration purely for its own sake is a nice sentiment, but what really drives people is money and competition. Whether its the Cold War or potential business opportunities, things tend to get done faster when there’s another motive.

Today’s space pioneers may turn out to be more like the money-grubbing Ferengi or expansionist Romulans than Starfleet officers, but hopefully they will at least ensure that humans leave Earth orbit at all.

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Space: Whose final frontier?

SpaceX Falcon 9 launchSpace may be the final frontier, but it’s already commercial. SpaceX’s privately launched capsule began its journey to the International Space Station on Tuesday, becoming the first of its kind. Space exploration started out as the mother of all public-private partnerships but, at least in the United States, the private sector seems to be leaving the government behind.

Seeing someone take an interest in space exploration is encouraging, but it’s just not the same without NASA taking the lead. Some might say that it doesn’t matter: if the private sector can do something better than the government, why waste taxpayers’ money? The ends should be the most important goal, so as long as someone is going into space, it should not matter whether they are a government agency or a private corporation.

SpaceX seems like a major change in the way we explore space, but private companies have been involved from the beginning. Who do you think built the rockets? NASA may have run all previous space missions but, like any other government project, the hardware was produced by the private sector. The Redstone booster that launched America’s first astronauts was built by Chrysler; the Mercury capsule was built by McDonnell.

So why not cut out the middleman? Couldn’t private interests use their own resources more effectively? Not really. SpaceX will continue doing what it does as long as Elon Musk and his small cadre of investors have money to pour into it, and are still interested in going into space.

That is why government involvement in space is so important. Where private companies only have their investors’ interests in mind, governments have an entire nation’s. SpaceX has shown what a small company full of dedicated techies can do, but imagine what several corporations, striving toward one goal, could do. At one time, such a collaboration was able to get men to the Moon.

There is also the matter of money. In the end, private corporations need to turn a profit in order to exist, and sometimes that takes precedent over everything else. The future depicted in Star Trek is very appealing, but what corporation would want to fund Starfleet? Will space travel be more like the universe of Alien, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation only operates spaceships for the sake of harvesting otherworldly resources?

Launching privately-operated spacecraft is better than not launching any, but mankind should not settle. The United States should go into space on its on terms, not the terms of a handful of wealthy investors. Government leadership and private resources has worked so far, there is no reason why private interests need to go it alone now. A lack of conviction is no reason to trade the Enterprise for the Nostromo.

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