‘Space the final frontier…‘ these iconic words are of course from Star Trek, one of the most well-known adventure series about space exploration ever made. but recent events are blurring the lines between science fiction and science facts.
I don’t know if you noticed, but we recently ‘Experienced the opening salvo in the exciting new chapter of human spaceflight and exploration.’ The space race has recently enjoyed a resurgence of interest by both political and private entities determined to re-jump-start space exploration with a renewed vigor. Space exploration history was made just a few days ago when America’s newest capsule for astronauts arrived at the International Space Station after a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX.
The commercial crew effort was led by a trio of private American aerospace company’s (SpaceX, Boeing & Sierra Nevada) in an intimate partnership with NASA to get American’s back in space on American rockets from American Soil – rather than being entirely dependent on Russian rocket technology and Soyuz capsules for astronaut rides to orbit.
The only passenger was a life-size test dummy, named Ripley after the lead character in the “Alien” movies. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of its crew Dragon capsule before putting people on board later this year. Humanoid in appearance, this Ripley is little more than a sensor array in a human-like package but resembles a person enough for the people at SpaceX to give it it’s iconic science fiction name.
This latest edition of the Dragon reached the space station on Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff. The capsule will spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost, before making a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday — all vital training for the next space demo, possibly this summer, when two astronauts strap in.
In years to come, this moment might loom large as a turning point on humanity’s path to the stars. In the brief history of spaceflight and exploration, Few people are more deserving than Elon Musk, who deserves credit for moving things forward within a stalled American space program that seemed to falter at the same moment we watched the space shuttle on TV getting moved to its final resting place just a few short years ago. Unless you have been living under a rock or in some other isolated, cut-off location, then you know the enigmatic, DaVinci-like Musk has been a one-person force-of-nature and a wonder who has been instrumental in advances in the field of space travel technology. His efforts include reusable thrusters that can be landed upright remotely, and coming up with solutions for other pragmatic problems that have been problematic to the space program for years or even decades. There are times I wonder if Musk is a visitor from the future of perhaps another planet or galaxy.
Musk’s Dragon ships and capsules are not the only entry in the 21st-century space race in America.
Boeing and Sierra Nevada are competing with SpaceX to build the next generation spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership.
The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.