With Elon Musk’s announcement this week that his company, SpaceX, is developing the world’s most powerful rocket, a little-acknowledged fact has become all the more clear: SpaceX IS the US manned space program.
Yes, naysayers like Senator Shelby of Alabama and even Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong like to say that private companies can never take over the government’s role in sending people to orbit and beyond. But that doesn’t change the facts.
Fact: NASA’s manned space program has been spinning its wheels, flying in circles around planet Earth since it abandoned the moon in 1972. How many more decades in orbit do we need to research the effects of microgravity on human physiology, anyway?
Fact: Not for lack of trying and dollars spent, NASA has not been able to field a new manned spacecraft since the Space Shuttle first launched in 1982.
Fact: The US government’s manned space program has been critically wounded by politicians whose only mission is to keep dollars flowing into their districts as well as by bureaucrats whose main mission is to ensure that the way the agency has done things in the past is the only way it will continue to do things.
Fact: SpaceX is the only US entity with the magic combination of vision, financial backing, and expertise to build America’s next-generation of manned orbital spacecraft.
Fact: With the Falcon Heavy announcement, SpaceX has affirmed its commitment to finally push humans past low Earth orbit again. Two successful orbital launches of its Falcon 9 rocket say that its chances of success are good.
What happens next? The Shuttle retires this year. NASA charters flights on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (powered by the Falcon 9 rocket) to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.
Space Station falls down by 2020, and no new one is built, leaving no manned space assets owned by the US government. Not only will NASA not be able to focus on a new mission long enough with sufficient funding to replace Shuttle and Space Station, it won’t need to. It will be able to continue to charter flights on Falcon/Dragon and lease space aboard Bigelow Aerospace space stations that are also now under development.
Meanwhile, private ventures, powered by SpaceX rockets and their eventual competitors, will push beyond low Earth orbit and continue the adventure where the Apollo moon astronauts left off. NASA researchers will continue to do what the agency has historically done best: develop the new technologies and collect the data needed to understand and explore the universe.
The US space program as we know will soon be dead. But that will only help humankind establish a sustainable and expanding presence in space.
Once again Michael, I must congradulate you for your clear vision of the future. Most certainly SpaceX`s endeavours will be accompanied by compeditors. There is one thing I could add that will make evident why entrepreneurs can do things that large government run organizations will never be able to do. Elon Musk is the one with the vision. Many people ask why he has been reluctant to relinquish control of SpaceX and offer shares on the market. It is because he doesn`t want to see SpaceX becme a corporation like many other corporations that lose sight of their vision and begin feeding on government and the people who use it in an attempt to maximize profits. Here is a video of Elon at the Stimpson Conferance. It is an hour long so look at it when you have time.
Thanks, Gary, and thanks for the link. A very interesting video indeed. A couple of highlights: life on Earth is at a moment akin to when we left the oceans–we can now leave the planet on a permanent basis. We don’t know how long the window of opportunity will be open, though. It’s best to assume that it won’t stay open very long and so we should work hard for that goal now. Musk also pointed out that after losing the lead in space launch some 20 years ago, America grabbed it back last year thanks to SpaceX, when the company became the world’s preferred launch provider.
You should have entitled your post: “SpaceX IS America’s manned space program”.
You are ignoring 200 spacecrafts, robotic missions which were sent into space since 1957, including two large ones led by NASA over the past 20 years (Galileo and Cassini), plus several space telescopes (HST, Spitzer). These facilities led to major discoveries and help us to understand our solar system, and our universe to a larger extend. More robotic missions and more telescopes are being by NASA in partnership with other nations. They are, I think, as important as sending man into space. So I am sorry to say that NASA is still and will remain for a while the America’s space Program.
True. I also left out mention of the thriving new suborbital space program, which has a number of players of its own, including Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, and Masten Space Systems. The headline aside, I was careful to make the manned distinction in the content of the article.
Franck Marchis said:
“More robotic missions and more telescopes are being by NASA in partnership with other nations. They are, I think, as important as sending man into space. So I am sorry to say that NASA is still and will remain for a while the America’s space Program.”
Nothing to be sorry about. That’s the job they’re supposed to be doing. No doubt many of those future telescopes and probes will be riding to the cosmos atop SpaceX boosters though.
Gary Warburton said:
“Here is a video of Elon at the Stimpson Conferance. It is an hour long so look at it when you have time.
An excellent video BTW. Definitely worth watching the whole thing.
Wow. They have figured out how to generate sound in LEO! Sweet!