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J. Elizabeth Freeman 

Dragon SpaceX Launch

Elon Musk launches world’s first private manned spacecraft to International Space Station


Last updated 6/10/2020 at 11:47am

Mix liquid oxygen with nitrogen then sprinkle Elon Musk’s private funds and you’ve got company on the ISS. What is SpaceX? Chomping on the tail of the International Space Station launch, SpaceX was founded in 2002 to revolutionize and repackage space transport away from the Russians. The rocket company’s ultimate goal lies in enabling private citizens to travel to and colonize other planets, specifically, to Mars in 2025.

On May 30 at 12:22 p.m., SpaceX evolved from an off-world, hot rocket, FedEx payload delivery with repeated launches from Cape Canaveral, Vendenberg, Kennedy Space Center and Brownsville, to privately manned spacecrafts. A magnificent leap that seems larger than just stepping off the spacecraft, for example, SpaceX’s off-planet payload deliveries would include supplies, equipment, and most recently astronauts, to the current valuation of $36 billion. How is this possible?

Bush’s 2004, hard to float, Vision for Space Exploration was repackaged as Obama’s 2010 US National Space Policy allotting $6 billion towards “achieving the boldest aspirations in space.” So the answer is, partially you. Another $1.6 billion of private funds have come from Fidelity, Google and the Ontario’s Teachers Pension, but what does that mean? It seems, the “boldest aspirations” are taking the shape of a regular, interplanetary/intercontinental via space orbit that resembles our modern airline industry, the birth of commercial spaceships as we know it. That’s pretty bold. Straight from the roller-coaster of a revolutionary rivaling the likes of Gates, Ford and Hughes, all rolled up into one, that’s Elon Musk.

It is a truly great American story of how Musk broke the inflated “Ma Bell” Russian market to manufacture independently and quite successfully with over 100 launches under his belt and a long list of first achievements in organization and action, several times simultaneously along with 100 more contracts on the horizon including NASA, U.S. Department of Defense, Deep Space Climate Observatory, United Air Force and the US National Reconnaissance Office. Intent on providing internet to all pockets of the world, SpaceX is the first to develop a reusable launch system for the largest satellite constellation in the world, Starlink. Private passenger Yusaku Maezawa has contracted to fly around the Moon in Starship in 2023, the long trails are frequently seen across the evening sky and on astronomy apps. Surprisingly, space tourists from 19 different nations have totaled 238 visitors for the International Space Station, roughly a dozen or so visitors a year and a private seat priced at a cool $40 million.

Somehow, now space doesn’t seem so lonely, I don’t see more than that through my own house in a year. Scheduled for May 27, weather conditions forced SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon launch to reschedule last minute to 12:22 p.m. May 30. Pinpoint lift offs allow the astronauts, the Falcon 9, and the Dragon Spacecraft containing their longtime friendship, all to pierce the atmosphere then dock 250 miles into the sky at the International Space Station with calculated precision. Both astronauts, as well as their spouses, were in the NASA program which ended in 2011 and thought their spacewalking days were over, only to be delighted when approached five years ago by SpaceX.

The International Space Station circles the Earth in a little over 90 minutes at 17,150 mph, equaling 15.5 orbits per day. That’s 116,000 times over our heads since originally launched in 1998, it has been occupied steadily with a full time crew since 2000. Built like an airport, ISS is set to go commercial after 2030, marking the end of government contracts leaving participating international agencies with intergovernmental treaties to work out their agreements. NASA (US), Roscosmos (Rus), JAXA (Jap), ESA (Eur), and CSA (Can) are at the helm and a Japanese Jaxa spokesperson was very optimistic about commercial involvement with the space center and that will aid in the further development of the ISS that “it needs.” These international space organizations that occupy the International Space Station revolve around five space programs with nineteen participating countries. Each entity has it’s terminals or modules with it’s own crews and teams, all operating under one Commanding Officer, American Christopher Cassidy, former United States Navy SEAL.

What could all these people possibly be doing up there? Making very important and consistent “eye in the sky” observations towards the Earth and away from it? Studying all kinds of materials and life in regards to how they behave in space? Sure, but most importantly they are studying the effects of radiation, gravity and other off-world factors on these human beings for their entire life and well beyond. That means there are pieces of dead astronauts floating around in space? I would say yes. A commitment well beyond checking the organ donor box, astronauts have to know everything and, Castaway style, form their own self-sufficient village, currently among a mere three people. Last September there were nine astronauts in orbit and it was labeled “Crowded in Space.”

An interesting, ongoing experiment currently being conducted on the International Space Station is the twin study. Identical twin astronauts are being continuously studied as one retires to the terrestrial life while the other continues as a spaceman. The good news is that the right stuff runs generations deep and chances of “the village” truly becoming your home away from home, could possibly far exceed the ambitions for the most sought after fantasy known to humanity.

Approximately 19 hours after this historical launch, Behnken and Hurley disembarked to join the three other astronauts making a party of five.

“I think this is something that’s particularly important in the United States but appeals to everyone throughout the world who has within them the spirit of exploration,” Musk said. “This is something that I think humanity should be excited about proud of occurring on this day.” The Dragon, now renamed the Endeavour, is scheduled to reenter the planet in 110 days closing the loop on this private space journey. “I think it was an argument that the return is more dangerous in some ways than the ascent, so in order to declare victory yet, we need to bring them home safely [and] make sure that we’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk of reentry and return,” Musk said.

Earlier this year, the announcement of the Crew Dragon, a private shuttle, would allow space adventurers to enter a low orbit for up to five days and lead a private citizen division. All in order for a cutting edge, pace setting company who has broken the mold by defeating foreign and domestic obstacles while reinventing the business model of the aerospace industry. Quite exciting for the primary shareholder of the launch vehicles, rocket engines and the spacecrafts that become the building blocks to the eventual voyage and colonization to Mars.

The big win here for Musk is the massive leap towards being the first company to take private citizens to space. The race started in 2000 between Elon Musk with SpaceX, Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin and Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic. One could say that stacking Musk’s success with Paypal and Tesla, he’s likely to capture the Triple Crown.