The Landing of The Falcon and the Launching of Humanity
Hey folks, I too did the happy-dance when the rocket landed on the drone ship. I cheered and shared the video and bored all around me to tears talking about it.
But cool as it was, it means little if human spaceflight demand continues to be the exclusive realm of government agencies. So the really cool part is that while the first stage booster retro-burned, the second stage continued on to put the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) into space as it rode in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft. The very first, privately built space habitat module, to be directly tested for human habitation, has now been placed in orbit. Once NASA, ESA, Jaxa, and Roscosmos have all had their chance to play in it aboard the ISS, that technology will provide a proven platform for human spaceflight that can then be driven and funded entirely by private enterprise. The new industry that many think will rise from that could come on line just as the human-rated SpaceX Dragon v2 and the Boeing Starliner complete their second or third year of operation with NASA and the ISS.
Reusable boosters rock. But the dream of private human space flight writes the music!
Did you notice how the post-launch press conference ended up being all about SpaceX? Almost all of the questions were directed at Elon Musk. Kinda funny how those three other folks at the table all had a ton of useful information too, but nobody seemed to care. A rocket lands on a ship, bathed in the bright sun and media coverage, while Bigelow Aerospace makes history sitting in the dark, in the rumble seat of an orbiter.
There are now three Bigelow space station modules in orbit. Government didn’t specifically ask for any of them. No Senator (that I know of) demanded that they be built. This third one, BEAM, will see people. The forth one is much larger and will launch in 2020 aboard an Atlas V. Bigelow Aerospace would like it to attach to the ISS, where it would increase the usable space inside the station by roughly a third, and double the Commercial Crew traffic to and from the station…but it doesn’t have to.
So, we all cheered both times the boosters landed. When it arrived at port, some cheered some more. We’ll all cheer big when it re-flies, maybe in June. But take another deep breath and get ready to cheer again all the louder when the ISS crew inflates BEAM and someone takes that first “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” into it.
Because on that day, the world will change forever.