Senin, 21 April 2014

SpaceX and Man's Journey to the Heavens

Today April 20th, around 10 am EST in the day, the Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station. Photos/Video
Dragon capsule 100m and closing in to dock at the ISS... Awesome!!
A little background info for those living under the proverbial rock...
In the aftermath of US ending the manned space shuttle program in late 2011, NASA was left with a bunch of starry eyed astronauts and the mantle of world leadership in humanity's space exploration frontier... and no money to send anyone out there. Fortunately, even though scientists are usually not as resourceful or unscrupulous as lobbyists or tbtf banks, this time America's deplorable politico-economic situation was somehow turned to (what so far seems to be) the long term advantage of science and all of us. 

In 2008, NASA had already started funding research in private companies to develop unmanned resupply missions to the ISS. Two companies were handed the contract, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation. SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. Orbital Sciences uses its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dragon resupply mission occurred in May 2012. The first Cygnus resupply mission occurred in September 2013. The latest Dragon mission happened in the last couple of days.
Falcon, prototyped to be the world's first reusable rocket, which would also instantly make it the worlds cheapest rocket.
This was SpaceX's third and last mission as part of the contract. Of course given the success of all 3 missions and the Cygnus mission, the future of private enterprise into space is far from over.  SpaceX was founded in 2002, 20 years after Orbital Sciences Corp had begun its foray into space, yet I hadn't even heard of OSC until a few days ago. SpaceX has exploded into the cultural zeitgeist, thanks mostly to its founder Elon Musk. He made his money from various tech startup payouts, the biggest one being PayPal. While random FB/twitter friendly headlines like the Elon Musk/Tony Stark thread have certainly helped, I think the main reason for his fame is due to the motivation and philosophy behind SpaceX. 

Musk has claimed that he has been influenced by the Foundation Series and considers space exploration a crucial step in the path to progress. He founded SpaceX towards this goal. That, in itself, is enough to earn my fandom. Firstly I completely agree with the logic, and have had this view for a long time. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, unless we become a global communism/dictatorship which would be even sadder, eventually human civilization is going to outgrow the Earth. There is no way around it. Eventually there will be too many people, too few fuels, too little space... not enough food. Technology is helping us keep pace for now, and yes we should devote a lot of our energies to keep this pace... but we have to keep in mind the long term strategy. And space IS the final frontier
Foundation : Asimov's momentous epic... if it doesn't inspire you to reach for the stars... nothing will.
Secondly, Musk's salary at SpaceX is $1. Of course he is being paid in shares and performance based bonuses, so I am not really all agog that symbolic figure. But behind that salary is the fact that a young millionaire used his own money to fuel an endeavor which creates something concrete and meaningful... instead of just investing in the next Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram and making shit loads of money from other useless tech bubble bullshit. Musk is also behind other larger than life ambitious projects TeslaSolarcity and HyperLoop that I won't try to talk about... in this post :).  

Compared to this, OSC is a run of the mill company which slowly built its profile with the US Govt, and has done of lot of work in defense aeronautics, space and satellite work and missile technology. There are too many of these in the US for anyone to care. And given how SpaceX has seemingly overtaken it in the race for a sustainable private rocket technology in just 10 years of existence, the hype around SpaceX (and OSC's relative anonymity) is quite justified. 

Excerpt from Wikipedia 
"Musk briefly became depressed with the lack of answers to the large questions of life, such as the reason for existence. After coming to this conclusion, Musk decided that perhaps the reason for the lack of good answers was that mankind was not yet at the point to be able to ask the right question. Musk's philosophy is that if global consciousness can be expanded, perhaps in the future mankind will be able to ask the right question. Musk considers the internet, renewable energy and space exploration as the methods which have the potential to have the most impact in this sense. The internet can serve as a global nervous system, renewable energy can expand the timeframe within which mankind can try to ask the right questions before running into economical or ecological collapse, and space exploration can serve as a backup for life itself. Musk also considers becoming a spacefaring civilization as an important step in evolution itself, akin to life first crawling onto land."

Agree, agree, agree and more agree!

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