ARTICLE – When I was a kid, I loved space. I couldn’t get enough of NASA and the Apollo program. I was nine years old when Apollo 11 launched, and like most of the country, I was glued to the TV, fascinated by America’s space program. In fact, they told me I should become an astronaut because I was just taking up space in school, but I digress…
Ever since the end of the shuttle missions, America hasn’t really had much of a space program. We have relied on the Russian space program to launch astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). But that’s all about to change.
In this past month, NASA and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company, successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, on Florida’s space coast, to the ISS. The rocket was topped with SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule, designed to carry American astronauts into space. The capsule contained a human analog named Ripley – think MythBusters’ Buster – a heavily sensor-laden manikin, to measure forces and to help determine how humans would handle the flight.
This flight also introduced new tech to the program. Usually, when a ship docks with the ISS, the crew on the ISS use the ISS’s robotic arm to help the ship dock. On this flight, the Crew Dragon capsule docked fully autonomously, a first in ISS history.
The capsule returned home after its five-day mission, successfully splashing down in the Atlantic. Now that the capsule, and Ripley, are home, the data will be analyzed. Another launch is planned with a designed abort, to test astronaut’s ability to survive in the event a flight has to be abandoned after the rocket has launched. Assuming it all looks good, we could see US astronauts, launching from a US launch site on a US built rocket for the first time in years.
In February 2018, a month after moving to Florida, I made the drive about 90 minute east to Titusville, just across the water from NASA’s famed launchpad 39A. I got to watch the NASA/SpaceX launch of the Falcon Heavy, essentially three Falcon 9s duct taped together. (OK, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the gist…)
On top of that was a capsule containing Musk’s own Tesla Model S roadster, with another dummy, dubbed Starman, belted in for the ride. The Falcon Heavy is designed to carry people and cargo, into space, potentially to Mars.
The bottom line here is that it is a very exciting time for the US space program – the most exciting time since the beginning of the space shuttle program. It would be great to get back to the heyday of space exploration when the entire country had space fever and we all looked to the skies with awe and excitement.
To learn more, check out NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
7 thoughts on “America returns to space – NASA and SpaceX”
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I lived in Satellite Beach (just south of Cocoa Beach) during the Apollo program. I got to see every Saturn launch and I took it for granted at the time. Beautiful launches!
I’m jealous, Bill. I can see launches from my driveway, but, I’m about 90 miles west, so the view just isn’t the same.
I, too, watched NASA with such interest we built our own CM and LM in the backyard (those in the know will recognize what those are;). I still believe that Apollo 8 was the greatest achievement (albeit 9 gets all the historic press as it should). I credit the Apollo program and NASA in general with my interest and career in Robotics and Computer Engineering. Like you I hope we could witness a national renewed interest in Space.
For the benefit of the non-space junkies, I assume you built a command module (CM) and lunar module (LM) – a very cool project. I can also credit the space program with my interest in computer science. That’s what I got my degree in, and where I spent my 35-year career, albeit in way less cool industries than space exploration.
For me, Apollo 13 gets the nod for importance, as it really demonstrated what a bunch of nerds armed with duct tape and some odd spare parts can accomplish when lives are on the line.
The shuttle is gone, but in its place is a pretty incredible robotic space exploration program that NASA does. All the 3D pics from the Mars rovers, the images of Pluto from New Horizons, movies of Cassini zooming through Saturn’s rings… it doesn’t take astronauts to have a space program!
Fair, enough, Hankk. That is pretty awesome as well.
Imagine how far into space the USA would already be if they wouldnt have spent hundreds of bn per year on war on this planet.