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Back in the Spaceflight Business

February 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Many members of my generation have been space enthusiasts since childhood. We spent lots of hours in our teens watching manned flights sent up by the U.S. Space Agency, usually know by the acronym NASA.

The original goal, as outlined by President Kennedy in 1960, was getting a manned spacecraft to the moon … and putting astronauts on the lunar surface.

Anyone alive in June of 1969 remembers when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. It was astonishing.

Several more lunar landings followed, and then NASA seemed to decide nothing else could be made of the moon, at that point in time, and no one has been on the moon since.

The global idea now seems to be that space flight has two reasons to exist, going forward.

1) As a for-profit industry interested mostly in putting space tourists into low orbit, and bringing them back.

2) Blue-skying about going to Mars.

And it seems like humankind took a step toward the latter today when SpaceX, mostly funded by billionaire Elon Musk, sent a satellite into space that will do elliptical orbits of Mars.

We might be getting somewhere now.

The SpaceX flight not only took a capsule into space … it carried along a version of Musk’s sporty Tesla electric convertible, along with a mannequin sitting in the driver’s seat. Which is silly, of course, but gained more attention for the endeavor.

To me, the most impressive part of the whole show was the successful landing of two rockets that only minutes before had lifted the payload into space. Vertical landings, with engines firing to resist the lure of gravity and settle gently to Earth.

Just like the old sci-fi movies!

Have a look at the video.

This is a big deal because SpaceX ought to be able to use those rockets again in a major cost savings.

During NASA’s Apollo (moon) program, the main rocket ended up in the Atlantic Ocean and the astronauts returned via splashdown in the Pacific. Which suddenly seems quite low-tech.

It is far too early to tell if Musk’s company will be the one that solves all the technical problems with getting humans to Mars, but it feels like a big step was taken today.

The difficulties are enormous. Getting to Mars apparently would take nine months, and then the new Martians would have to wait around at least five months on the planet before spending another nine months returning to Earth. Assuming they have enough oxygen and food and water to survive the mission.

Many of us Boomers always assumed Mars would not be far behind the moon, but it has been nearly 50 years now since Armstrong made “one giant leap” to the lunar surface.

Maybe getting private enterprise involved is the way to move along a flight to Mars. Maybe kids today can figure that someone will walk on Mars in their lifetimes.




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