Commercial space travel seems relegated, at the moment, to private and startup companies and the megarich. For us small folk, it’s impossibility. But the sky (and beyond) is the limit…
“Tonight, Sunday, October 7, at 20:35 Eastern (US) time (or 00:35 UTC on the morning of October 8) the private company SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (PDF). Sitting on the top of the rocket is a Dragon capsule loaded with half a ton of supplies for the astronauts on the ISS.” Source: Discover Magazine
As a kid, when most of my shrimpy colleagues wanted to be rock gods or movie stars, my only dream was to one day go into space. Of course, I’m sure some of them wouldn’t have minded blasting off into the sky, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have minded being a rock god or a movie star. But each day I get older, the dream dies slowly.
Unless I suddenly came into an immense amount of wealth, or I froze myself in the hopes that they could revive me sometime in an undisclosed future (where space travel has become the norm, and affordable), space flight seems an unlikely prospect.
No, I wasn’t alive when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the Moon. As I reveled in stories about these men and women, the space explorers, the pioneers of the 20th century, I could only imagine how monumental that event must have been, when the entire world watched. “One giant leap for mankind” sounds about right.
Small steps closer for mankind.
Dreams die or you wake up. Or you’re a kid who’s too easily distracted. Suddenly you find yourself trying to fulfill the wishes of your parents by going to a school and getting a nine-to-five job. You learn to occupy yourself with too many video games (or just too much of one or two) and movies.
But at some point in time, you find yourself interested in old passions again, or discovering new ones. A renewed love for science fiction in the last half year or so has rekindled a newfound love for real science and technology. You learn that outer space may not be the only limitless frontier (cyberspace, it seems, has no bounds, either). The 20th century has seen probably the greatest advances in science and technology, and our days into the future show no signs of stopping this juggernaut.
Should space travel and space exploration be the exception to that rule? Elon Musk certainly doesn’t think so.
“My goal is to open up space and make it something that the average person, if they save up a lot, can travel to.” – Elon Musk
Of course, one has to wonder what “save up a lot” means, but Elon Musk has become well-known for not only having the biggest of dreams, but the ability to make those dreams come true. And now he wants to make the dreams of the “average person” a reality. Described as a “textbook example of what would happen if you gave a few billion dollars to the most faithful, daydreaming nerd at a science fiction convention”. He’s made waves on the internet with PayPal, and caused major shocks with Tesla Motors (with the first highway-capable, all electric vehicle: the Roadster). But since founding SpaceX in 2002, Elon Musk’s greatest ambitions seem to be tackling the final frontier (though “final” may be a bit incorrect).
In a century of scientific and technological advances, space exploration was probably among the more important (how important probably depends on one’s outlook). Understandably, it’s not cheap or easy, and it’s time-consuming and risky. But that’s probably what’s so inspired about it. What technological endeavor isn’t expensive, time-consuming or risky? Where would us “average” people be without the dreamers, visionaries and risk-takers? What Elon Musk and his colleagues are doing are putting us one small (perhaps, miniscule) step closer.
“So far SpaceX has had two successful orbital flights with the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. Though the company reminds everybody that space travel is “incredibly complicated, from launch to recovery.” There was a technical setback before the launch for the demonstration flight in May, where a small mechanical failure within the turbo-pump feeding fuel to the engine caused the launch to be aborted less than one second before liftoff. The scrubbed first attempt was a reminder that there’s more than a few wires and a simple four-cylinder under the hood.” Source: Wired.com
Risks are inherent in any undertaking, and rise in accordance to how huge, dangerous and/or costly it is. But if we were always afraid of risks, then we might not ever leave the house, let alone drive a car, cross a street, or fly into space. Challenge has always stood in the way of meeting goals and realizing dreams. Elon Musk and SpaceX illustrate the idea that dreams don’t really die. That sometimes we have to face challenge in order to attain dreams. And that sometimes proving people wrong is as good a motivation as any.
“SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk has said that he named his spacecraft “Dragon” after the fictional “Puff the Magic Dragon,” from the hit song by music group Peter, Paul and Mary. Musk said he used the name because many critics considered his goals impossible when he founded SpaceX in 2002.” Source: Space.com
In 2012, SpaceX celebrates its tenth anniversary, while making history on May 25th, as their Dragon becomes the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with the International Space Station. It designed and developed the Falcons 1 and 9 launch vehicles, and the Dragon spacecraft. And Sunday’s launch will be the first of twelve contracted flights, totaling $1.6 billion.
And the sky’s the limit…
With the ISS set to remain operational until 2020 (possibly 2028), a void makes it possible for commercial ventures to become integral. While NASA remains “unsure” as to its future, not to mention mired in politics, there are some who surmise that “expensive government space agencies are surpassed by commercial entities”, one point-of-view that has become increasingly likely or, perhaps, already a reality.
“In a recent interview with New Scientist magazine, Musk said that he wants to see 10,000 people living on Mars in the near future – preferably, millions of people. To help bring this about, the ultimate goal for the Dragon spacecraft is to execute a manned landing on the red planet within 20 years. Not only that, but Musk plans to do it at a mission cost of only US$5 billion dollars – maybe even as low as US$1 billion.” Source: Gizmag.com
Ever the visionary, Elon Musk continues to think in terms of limitlessness, but always remaining with his feet paradoxically on the ground. Dreams may be lofty and limitless, but waking life must be down-to-earth and realistic. Perhaps the lesson then is not to dream. “I know it’s possible,” says Musk, adding, cautiously, “I know it’s within the realm of possible.” He’s worked the calculations out.
Perhaps, then, the lesson is not to dream aimlessly, but to explore the possible and the probable. One moment at a time, one challenge faced at a time. Tonight is the stepping stone towards an unknown future. Tonight is to prove they could do it again. Repeat making history. Tonight we only focus on one thing.
“This mission is really important. Well, they all are, of course, but it’s critical that SpaceX can show not only that they can do this, but that they can do it again.” Source: Discover Magazine
Make possible out of what seems improbable and wait with bated breath…
PS: Oh yeah, Felix Baumgartner’s a pretty inspirational badass, too.
- NASA SpaceX CRS-1 mission gets go-ahead, takes off tonight (slashgear.com)
- Private Dragon Spacecraft ‘Go’ to Launch Space Station Cargo Sunday (space.com)
- SpaceX Dragon capsule set to launch for ISS tomorrow (slashgear.com)
- Hangout with Elon Musk (universetoday.com)
- Sunday’s SpaceX Launch: High Stakes for Commercial Spaceflight (technewsworld.com)