By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, USDR.
“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.” – President John F. Kennedy
With the successful launch on Saturday of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, propelling astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), the United States reclaimed its place among the space-faring nations after nearly a decade of absence.
While rockets have been produced in the private sector from the onset of the space race, the SpaceX launch was the first time that the entire production and design was outsourced; SpaceX plans to use the Crew Dragon craft to start space tourism as early as next year.
Since the Obama Administration retired the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011, Americans traveling to the ISS have had to ride on Russian Soyez craft, and the three remaining operational Space Shuttles (plus the test craft Enterprise) were sent to various displays across the country (a source of irritation to Houstonians: the Johnson Space Center received only a replica, the Independence, despite being Mission Control for Space Shuttle flights).
SpaceX (formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) was founded by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, a South African immigrant whose interest in the science of travel has resulted in several entrepreneurial endeavors: in addition to SpaceX, Musk was an early investor and later CEO of Tesla, which produces electric cars, and has unveiled an idea for high-speed transit called Hyperloop, which involves travel in individual pods traveling through vacuum tubes at over 600 miles per hour via magnetic levitation. Musk made the Hyperloop technology open source, and it is subsequently being developed commercially by various companies including Richard Branson’s Virgin and various competitors.
Musk certainly has a showman’s flair: he demonstrated SpaceX’s Falcon rocket in 2017 by launching his personal Tesla roadster into solar orbit – complete with a dummy astronaut in the driver’s seat. His interest in rocket development grew out of his desire to send humans to Mars; his attempts to purchase Russian rockets proved fruitless because they were too expensive, so he developed innovations to be able to economically produce rockets himself. Because much of the cost of a rocket launch is the disposable rocket booster, Musk’s team of engineers developed a multi-stage rocket that returns to Earth intact, landing on a drone ship at sea to be reused multiple times – a feat seemingly as inspiring as the launch itself. Musk’s entrepreneurial bent fueled innovation that changed the economics of space travel, just as his Tesla cars have changed the economics of zero-emission automobiles.
In the midst of coronavirus and the related economic calamity (GDP growth in the United States was -5% for the 1st quarter of 2020 because of the COVID-related shutdowns), widespread protests and riots over the murder of George Floyd, and the start of the hurricane season that is expected to be busier than normal, and what is sure to be a polarizing Presidential campaign, Musk’s tenacity and leadership provide a ray of light to a culture in need. The United States is back exploring the “final frontier”, with the private sector leading the way.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Make sure to check out Dave’s popular series, “Profiles in Liberty” at USA Daily Chronicles. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.