>> Friday, June 4, 2010
The Falcon 9 test flight, just launched successfully, is unmanned (as all the best test flights are), but it's a very important test flight. At this time SpaceX is an outlier on the notion that commercial ventures can make effective heavy lift rockets and, potentially, send people into space.
This is thrilling for many. It's probably a bit scary for several still entangled in the Constellation Program, especially given its uncertain future. Some (many of whom were all warm and fuzzy about commercial human spaceflight until it became competition) are probably a bit worried or frustrated.
I'm not. I'm thrilled it was a success (though I don't know yet how successful it was).
This is a great thing. Not just for SpaceX. Not just for commercial spaceflight (human or otherwise). Not just for America or any other country. Why?
Because every time space becomes more accessible, every time we find a new way to get there (especially given the dearth of truly new rockets the past few decades), every new option we open up, makes the possibility of really exploring the universe, really making a home in space, really colonizing the moon or orbit . . . just a little less impossible.
Will Constellation, in some slimmed down form, survive? I have no idea. But having another possibility, another option out there not only forces NASA to compete and excel, but it does the same for Space X. Best case, when we need to get astronauts back to the ISS or, perhaps, even send out a vehicle to do more, we may have another option than we did before.
Now, I feel strongly that the NASA standards out there for safety, redundancy and reliability, for operability and control of manned space vehicles is still pertinent even to commercial ventures, especially if we're putting astronauts out there.
But it's a key step. In the end, for space travel to mean something, it's going to have to belong to all of us, not just a handful of specially trained highly educated specialists or pilots. And this, this is a step along that path.