Return of the Dragon

Congress couldn’t stop it.

Boeing couldn’t beat it.

An entire new industry has awaited it.

Much of the content of this blog, almost since its inception, has lead up to it.

Now it has happened.

The first successful, full-cycle flight of a crewed commercial spacecraft, that launched on to orbit May 30th, ended today when Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon after sixty-four days on the International Space Station (ISS).

No more will people need to rely on governments to fly them to orbit and back. Many of us who watched the first Moon landings live on television expected truly routine access to space to begin soon after. We were promised that the “reusable” Space Shuttle would bring us there, but that did not occur. Preparation for flight turned out to be way too intrusive and expensive to be considered routine and the system turned out to be too complex to ramp-up launch cadence (flight frequency). Space shuttle flights also ended up being ridiculously expensive and impossible to commercialize. Finally, the aging shuttles had two fatal accidents, dropping its safety record far below NASA’s threshholds. As a result, then President George W. Bush cancelled the program. The shuttle would complete its promises to our International partners and help finish building the International Space Station and then the program would end.

What happened today, the eighth day of August in the year 2020 carries an end and a beginning. It ends the thirteen years that the U.S. has had to rely on Russia to carry our astronauts to the space station. You’ll hear about that angle a lot. Doug Hurley flew on the final mission on the Space Shuttle and left a flag up there. Today, he brought it back to Earth with him.

Today we also began a new phase of human spaceflight where the builder of the spacecraft owns it rather than their government. The Commercial Crew program privatizes human spaceflight and SpaceX (and Boeing next year) now has demonstrated that they can safely build and operate such things themselves. Non-NASA flights will now soon start to fly. On top of that, SpaceX prices have revolutionized spaceflight, lowering the cost of launches enough to temp entrepreneurs.

Don’t think this burgeoning new industry doesn’t still need NASA. NASA is still SpaceX’sand Boeing’s best source for technology and their first and most deep-pocketed customer. The difference lies in the fact that NASA is no longer a human spaceflight provider’s only customer. SpaceX currently has three other human spaceflight missions in the works to fly very soon that NASA will not pay for. Boeing does too. Several other customers have waited for this very day to pull the trigger on their own human spaceflight plans with SpaceX and/Or Boeing as their launch partner. Further, advances in space flight no longer need Congressional approval or patience but can now move freely at the speed of innovation.

Our hopes for a tomarrow amoung the stars began today. Break out those old space opera movies and celebrate. Here…I’ll find one for you…

(Note…the book was better 😉

~ by Bill Housley on August 2, 2020.

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