SpaceX Launches Two American Astronauts into Space
A Lifetime of Dreaming
Did you miss the story of the SpaceX launch of its Falcon 9 rocket on May 30, 2020? Riots and George Floyd’s brutal death overpowered it in the news. But I watched Saturday, hoping for a launch, disappointed when the 9:00 AM countdown was stopped and thrilled with the 3:00 PM launch.
A video circulating the internet arrived in my email telling of Elon Musk’s life and his road to founding SpaceX. Like all stories of success, it is littered with failures, three rocket launch disappointments with only enough money for four. But it is not the success of an American businessman that interests me as much as it is our refocus on putting men and women into space again. A life-long reader of science fiction, man’s leaving the planet has been something I thought important and possibly necessary to the long term survival of humans.
In the future I imagined, I hoped by this time in my life we would have made more progress. 2001 was a long time in the future when the movie was released in 1968. I thought the things shown in that movie were both fantastic and reasonable. But 2001 came and went and we were no closer to that future.
For me, dreams of humans living off the planet started when I was 10 with the launch of Sputnik. It was 1957. The Russians were the bad guys and they were ahead in the space race, which wasn’t good for us. America’s first response to Sputnik blew up on the launchpad. The first US satellite was launched in 1958 on Explorer 1. In 1961, Yugi Gagarin was the first man in space. Less than one month later, Alan Shepard followed on Mercury Freedom 7. These were exciting times and most Americans watched as the US launched their various rockets into space, John Glenn’s orbital flight in 1961 aboard Mercury 7. The space raced changed on May 25, 1961, when President Kennedy announced a manned mission to the moon and back before the end of the decade.
American fascination with space waned as missions followed mission. While still newsworthy, launches stopped being televised by the three major networks. The 1960s was full of space achievements and mishaps, orbiting the moon, flybys of Venus and Mars, spacewalks, equipment failures, and deaths. The Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon on July 24, 1969, was an event that most Americans living at that time will always remember. Between 1969 and 1972 there were nine US manned missions to the moon. December 1972 was the last time we were on the moon.
Space was a dangerous business. There have been many accomplishments and catastrophes, Mir and Skylab, the space shuttles, Christa McAuliffe and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in the 1986 disaster, voyager missions to explore the outer planets and beyond, Mars landings, the International Space station, communication satellites, GPS, and the Hubble telescope. But budget constraints and the fact that technology made crewed exploration flights unnecessary limited man’s presence in space to earth’s orbit and the space stations.
Elon Musk hopes for a Mars colony and there are plans for a crew to return to the moon in 2024. President Trump created the space force. Maybe we’re about to have man again leave the planet and conquer the hazards of space.
There were suggestions that manufacturing in zero-G offered several advantages which are not yet available mostly because of the costs to get things into space and then back to earth, but the cost is going down. The other great potential was mining the asteroids. This not only offered a new place to find precious gems and metals, but it also made unnecessary the costs of moving resources off-planet to manufacturing facilities.
When talking about SpaceX and our return to space with my wife, I realized any hope for me seeing earth from above the atmosphere no longer exist. It wasn’t that my profession was likely to be needed in space as it was that when we finally took up residence there, and it became a tourist destination, opportunities would open up. As unlikely as it may have been, given the chance, I think I’d have gone for it. But like my dream of hiking the Australian outback, that door is now closed forever. My wife said she never considered going into space. I guess she is a little more down to earth than me.