SpaceX Flight Launches: Could Private Space Flight Make NASA Irrelevant?

  • Share
  • Read Later
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force station

REUTERS/Scott Audette

Talk about outsourcing.

NASA took a giant leap toward effective irrelevance today with the 10:43 AM launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. You’ve never heard of the Falcon 9? How about PayPal, then? Good, because they were both produced by the same guy—entrepreneur and all-around brainiac Elon Musk. Get used to the name since before long he may be the only guy who can get Americans into space.

(See the top 50 space moments since Sputnik.)

When President Obama took office nearly two years ago, he inherited a mess of woes from the outgoing administration, but ex-President Bush did leave him one gem: a re-invigorated NASA that was working aggressively to put human beings back on the moon. Spacecraft were being designed, boosters were being built, factories were being re-tooled, metal was being cut. That came essentially to a halt with a new White House policy to scrap the new lunar program, stand down the new boosters and leave it largely to the private sector to build rockets and ferry Americans into orbit. The moon would be taken off the table, but other deep space destinations such as asteroid flybys would still be a possibility—someday.

(See a video tour of SpaceX’s facilities.)

Two big firms are currently vying to be the government’s prime supplier: Orbital Sciences, in Dulles, Va., and SpaceX, based in Texas and California. SpaceX is Musk’s operation, and the company vaulted to a big lead with its launch today. In July, a Falcon 9 successfully put a mock-up of the company’s Dragon space capsule into orbit. Today’s flight is a two-orbit, 3 hr. and 30 min. mission, which is intended not just to get the Dragon payload into space, but return it successfully for a splashdown in the Pacific.

(See the top 10 NASA flubs.)

That’s the smallest of small potatoes for NASA, but big news for the private sector. If the mission is successful, it positions SpaceX to become the principle taxi service to and from the International Space Station. That will become especially important next year when the space shuttles are retired, leaving Americans dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from orbit.

(See how Musk was the model for Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies.)

It’s a very big day for Musk and SpaceX, and the champagne corks will justifiably pop if the splashdown goes smoothly. Things are less celebratory for NASA, and less still for Americans who remember—and long for—the space triumphs of old. -Jeffrey Kluger

1 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
MichaelMartin-Smith
MichaelMartin-Smith

Elon Musk, if successful, will not only make NASA irrelevant but will put the nail in the coffin of opponents of Space development and human colonisation by rendering the opposition to these goals on grounds of cost totally passe. Musk, Bigelow and the UK's Skylon project are now on a path to reducing costs of access to Space 10-100 fold.

Opposition to the settlement of Space , and development of its vast resources in Energy and Raw materials, will then only be pursued  by anti-humans, thinly disguised as  Greens, who pretend to put the Planet ( unendangered) before the interests and development of humane civilisation, which they abhor. They prefer a static, impoverished human culture controlled by a corrupt self serving  Green elite, and will soon have to confess as much. Small wonder that such folk call for a curtailment of human rights and freedoms, since their solutions, would never survive an election campaign!

In exposing the climate change religion as a mask for totalitarian ambitions, and rendering its central premise- that drastic measures against people and liberty are necessary due to worsening shortages of everything, the coming revolution in space transport and access will cut off such opponents of humankind off at the knees, hopefully in the nick of time.

This may be the greatest gift of Space top humankind!