Historic Day!After being delayed once, SpaceX's Dragon 9 rocket took flight and brought the Dragon capsule to orbit, with the ultimate goal of docking to the International Space Station (ISS). This mission is historic for many reasons: It will have been the first time that a commercial company sends a spacecraft to the ISS, but it also further proves that it is possible to make spaceflight cheaper and safer (it used to take the resources of the biggest nations on Earth to achieve this, and now a privately funded startup is doing it in a few years), and thus make space more accessible.
But before we look at the future, let's have a look at the present (or rather, at the recent past):
At 3:44 a.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 carrying Dragon launched from SpaceX’s launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Now Dragon heads toward the International Space Station. On that journey it will be subjected to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the station.
The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX.
Explaining the significance of the day, Musk stated, "This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element. It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market. I think we're at a similar inflection point for space. I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology."
Here's What SpaceX Really Wants to Do:
If they can achieve this vision of reusable rockets, they would be orders of magnitude cheaper than the current generation of rockets. This would mean many things, including a few green ones: Putting scientific payloads into orbit would be much cheaper, meaning that more Earth-studying satellites could be launched. They could help us further our understanding of climate change, or track pollution, study oceans, forests, etc. The better we understand our planet and all its complex, dynamic systems, the better we can protect it.
Further down the line, low-cost access to space could make somescience-fiction dreams possible, including space-based solar power, which would be the ultimate way to harness the sun's energy. It could also make asteroid mining - which has been in the news lately because of Planetary Resources inc., a startup that has started working on it - possible, which would reduce the amount of mining for certain rare elements here on Earth, protecting some fragile ecosystems.
Of course, none of this is going to happen tomorrow, but SpaceX's great achievements are encouraging me to look over the horizon...
Kudos to Elon Musk (who's also CEO of Tesla Motors) and all the SpaceX employees!