Why has there been so much excitement over SpaceX sending American astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station)? We have been sending astronauts to the ISS for decades. Many of these astronauts have been the Americans, NASA. The answer is that this launch was a major milestone in the space exploration, possible a turning point. And, for several reasons.
Since 2011, NASA has not been using their own space shuttles and rockets to launch their astronauts to space, and the famous Space Shuttle program has since been shut down, permanently. They were using the infamous Space Shuttle for all their human flights into space, which, by being re-usable, was designed to reduce the cost of single-use shuttles. The Space Shuttle was innovative, and rather ambitious. The Americans initially planned for the shuttle to be launched into space every 2weeks, using over 1000 staff to check and maintain every item on the space craft between flights. This strategy quickly failed as this fast turn-around time was unfeasible, impossible, mistakes were made, and deaths occurred. The American governments cut the budgets for NASA, and it seemed the American pride was damaged.
To add salt to the wound, NASA has had to approach the Russians to send astronauts to space for their missions, for the past 9 years. And, this has still been cheaper than if they launched themselves.
The world is changing, and so are political views. World’s leading countries are being scrutinised for how they spend their tax-paying citizens monies. The American space program has already spent over 200 bullion US dollars on their Space Shuttle project. Russia has become the go-to country for space travel, and China and India are following suite. But for westernised countries, using tax money to send people to fix space stations and satellites seems almost a crime, especially when governments use space missions as bragging rights against their foes.
SpaceX is a private company. It is true that it is an American company, but they are more an international business (even Elon Musk is actually South African). Running as a business, they have a business aim, money making goal. With this, this company must be economically competitive with NASA, Russia, China, and India. They have invested an immense amount of private money and time on their technology, and have revolutionised space engines, rockets and shuttles. And, to be the best in the industry, their safety standards are top priority. They are currently the cheapest on the market to launch, since their shuttles and even their rockets can safely return back to earth and, subsequently, be re-used. Their business: to be a space ‘Corriere service’ for countries and companies, sending satellites and equipment back and from space, as well as a space transport service for astronauts. The actual space missions are not their objective. You pay them, they send you to space, and you can safely return – a simple inexpensive business transaction.
Typical of Elon Musk, his products are stylish, very modern, and high in technology. The Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon space shuttle seem to be eons ahead in time compared to the old Space Shuttle and Russian vehicles. Rockets fly back to earth, landing on ships in the ocean, all on auto-pilot. The shuttles have a very modern design, looking more like out of a science-fiction novel. Interiors are neat, like a first-class flight on Emirates. Also, for the first-time, the shuttle is controlled by touch-screens, and gone are the days of hundreds of buttons and knobs. They publicly make their future plans known, showing their ideas to design bigger, more advanced shuttles – they not planning to be stagnant and plan to continue with innovation.
The launch of the 31 May 2020 was the first human cargo for SpaceX, and the day America flew their own astronauts back into space, after 9 years. America is trying to be ‘proudly America’ again. Even if their people are ill, and their cities are burning.
But, private space travel is now open for business, for both space exploration and exploitation, for anyone, in any country.