Last week the world watched as a rocket by the name of Dragon 9, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and successfully docked with the international space station. The launchpad was a refurbished stripped down version of what used to be used for NASA’s Space Shuttle. The Dragon itself was built and operated by SpaceX, a private company seeking to prove to NASA that they deserve and can handle the million dollar contracts to fly re-supply missions to the ISS for the coming years. A responsibility that is expected to eventually include transporting human cargo, sending and returning astronauts to and from the ISS.
The successful mission is being touted as a major step towards an era of private space exploration. As government programs, especially in the United States, have long been criticized for taking too long and demanding too much money and personnel. With the end of the shuttle program and major cuts to the US government’s space program, American presidents and lawmakers over the past 8 years have been pointing to the private sector as a potential new source of funding, initiative, and know-how.
SpaceX has less than 1,800 employees, builds its equipment outside of Los Angeles, and specializes in doing things as affordably and efficiently as possible. The company’s founder, Elon Musk is a South African billionaire who founded Paypal, sold the company, and went on to co-found Tesla Motors (electric cars) and SpaceX. He’s a self-proclaimed Star Wars fan boy who went so far as to name the company’s first shuttle after Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon.
Among the small list of companies right behind SpaceX who also seek to build successful launch vehicles, rovers, landers, etc, are large and small science-business ventures around the world. Big bureaucratic space operations are increasingly being labelled as more of a liability than an asset when it comes to making breakthru’s. Private space projects like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX (one being for space tourism and the other more for research) are the darlings of the science and business community today. They’re starting to prove they can handle all the important aspects of running a space program. The question remains, can they withstand the challenges from the aggressive world of international business?
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