I just caught the launch on television and got to watch it live! The Dragon capsule is now in orbit and is headed for the International Space Station, which will take a couple of days, but if all goes according to plan, then Space X will become the first private company to successfully launch a payload to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9, one of their rockets (and used on this mission), provides the lowest cost per pound/kilogram and does so with huge improvements in reliability. It is also a reusable rocket. On Thursday, the Dragon spacecraft must demonstrate its guidance, control, and communications systems. If successful, then on Friday it wil lbe allowed to fly within 10m of the ISS, where the crew will grab it. The company was launched by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. What is really amazing is that all the critics said what Musk is trying to do is impossible, that he doesn't know what he is doing and was doomed to fail. Each time he'd meet a goal, successfully launching a rocket, they'd then say, "Okay, he made it that far, but he won't make the next goal." When SpaceX started up around a decade ago, no one gave it much serious thought, that it was just the fantasies of a tech entrepreneur but never something that would become a serious contender for space launching, but it seems like now it will be a serious contender for giving America the ability to launch its own astronauts back into space without having to rely on other countries like Russia (and also not having to rely on other countries to launch our satellites and supplies to astronauts in space).
NASA in 2008 selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle (rocket) and Dragon spacecraft capsule for resupplying the International Space Station, although first SpaceX must complete a set of milestones established by NASA to win the contract. Prior to this, the business of launching satellites has been dominated by the big defense/aerospace companies and as such, they haven't had much need to innovate as there was a lack of competition. SpaceX's rockets, which it seems will be both cheaper and more reliable, are going to give them a real run for their money though it seems. The cost of launching satellites has been increasing each year, so if successful, Space X will really lower the cost, allowing NASA to spend more money on other things. SpaceX's biggest planned rocket is called the Falcon Heavy and that will be able to lift neary twice the payload of the Space Shuttle and more than twice the payload of the Delta IV Heavy. The next few days will tell if they are successful or not in reaching the ISS, but there was HUGE applause though as the rocket got into orbit and then they showed live the solar panels on the spacecraft deploying. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are designed to carry astronauts to the space station as well. Once they complete a mission in which astronauts are launched, Musk will have really done our nation a truly national service, giving us space launch capability and private-sector to boot! He already has done a national service I think, but when they start launching astronauts will be really cool.
It is really neat in the sense that the modern world as we know it is a result of the space program. The computer, the Internet, the GPS system, modern electronics, and a whole host of other things too numerous to list here, would literally not exist or would exist in a much more primitive form, had it not been for the space program. But now we see the private sector, utilizing the technologies that have come about from the space program, advancing America's space launch capabilities. Maybe America will again make it to the Moon and back, through a combination of NASA and private enterprise.
Here is the statement from the White House from John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology:
"Congratulations to the teams at SpaceX and NASA for this morning’s successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting because it represents the potential of a new era in American spaceflight. Partnering with U.S. companies such as SpaceX to provide cargo and eventually crew service to the International Space Station is a cornerstone of the President’s plan for maintaining America’s leadership in space. This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best -- tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit. I could not be more proud of our NASA and SpaceX scientists and engineers, and I look forward to following this and many more missions like it."
The policy of relying more on the private-sector is great, but I disagree with the President for cutting the funding for NASA, as that is the one government program that actually is partially self-sustaining because it continues to pump out new research and development that the private sector takes advantage of. It's probably the one government program that should not
see any real cuts, as it is already a miniscule protion of the budget. And until the private-sector proves its mettle, we want NASA to continue working on its own replacement spacecraft (currently the Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle). Thie Chinese have made it clear that they want to be the first back to the Moon, and if the U.S. did it with 1960s technology, I'm sure the Chinese could eventually pull it off.
As a side note, James Cameron recently made a record-breaking dive to the bottom of the Marianna Trench (in a submersible which he designed too, he also has worked at designing special camera, both for movies and space exploration), making it the fourth time any craft has successfully dived down that far. He spent three hours down there, the longest ever (the last time any person went to the Challenger Deep (deepest part) was the U.S. Navy in 1960, two men for twenty minutes). Cameron was the first solo dive and the longest manned dive. The dive was the culmination of seven years of planning and the design and construction of a special submersible (Cameron is very big on ocean exploration, hence the movies The Abyss, Titanic
and also the aquatic-based world of Avatar
). This dive was really big-time as well in that not only is his craft revolutionary in design as far as submersibles go, but it is also private-sector, not government. And the deep sea is harder to explore than outer space (more humans have walked on the Moon, and for far longer, than have explored the bottom of the ocean), so that was also a big deal.
Good times for human exploration, and it's being driven by Americans
EDIT: Well, Cameron is Canadian, but he resides in Los Angeles, so close enough I suppose.