The FAA has granted its first-ever license for a private company, SpaceX, to bring a spacecraft back down from orbit (i.e., to land).
This clears the way for a planned test launch by the company next month. SpaceX hit a home run earlier this year with its first launch to orbit by its Falcon 9 rocket. Next the company will flight test its Dragon capsule. If all goes well, the capsule will deliver cargo to the International Space Station starting next year.
As I pointed out in my feature on SpaceX for Popular Mechanics, the capsule has windows. Cargo doesn’t need windows.
From the beginning, SpaceX has been focused on a very clear mission: to build the infrastructure to enable humans to leave the planet. Permanently. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk makes no secret that he views humankind’s next evolutionary step as colonizing Mars. A necessity, he told me, “If we ultimately wish not to go in the direction of the dinosaurs.”
SpaceX is Exhibit A for what an organization can accomplish with a crystal clear mission focus, even with limited resources.
Mark my words, the Dragon will one day end up in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Milestones of Flight Gallery, joining the Apollo 11 capsule, the X-15, the Spirit of St. Louis, and SpaceShipOne. It’s that important; its success will change everything, just as those historic vehicles did.