Friday, May 25, 2012

I Was Wrong

A year ago, we were contemplating the imminent end of NASA's half-century manned space-flight odyssey. As one whose life has progressed in step with that program I had some fairly strong feelings about the events, and I had this to say:
"And I expect to watch the end of the journey as Atlantis plunges toward the threshold of the runway at Kennedy Space Center, flares at the last second and settles onto the ground for the last time. That, I expect, will be a bittersweet moment.

And then? Will manned space flight rise again, Phoenix-like, in this country - driven this time by the efforts of men like Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk? Is a good dose of the American Entrepreneurial Spirit™ all that we need here? Pardon me if I am not reassured."

I was wrong.

With today's successful rendezvous and capture of the Dragon spacecraft, Elon Musk's team at SpaceX have proven that they can do the hard parts. There are major hurdles still to be overcome – on this mission, berthing, reentry and recovery, then "operationalizing" the system, and then in the future, man-rating the system to provide transportation to low earth-orbit for astronauts. Almost certainly, failures will occur. But that all being said, after today I am reassured (as, a year ago, I was not). SpaceX is the real deal, and I was wrong.


Colin Summers said...

Are you going to mention that it was done at a fraction of the cost? And that the sort of corruption that slips into any government program (like basing mission control in Dallas to appease LBJ) has a harder time occurring in private industry because those moves make them less competitive?

I cannot imagine what Mr. Musk and Mr. Branson could do if they had NASA's budget over the past decade.

Frank Van Haste said...

Colin, I appreciate your viewpoint. Thanks for visiting.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Frank. It is a major step, to be sure - but they still have a looong way to go. As you note, the 'man-rating' of the systems is a huge hurdle and a very expensive one. (No short cuts there, please!) In my view, manned space flight is NOT dead, but will proceed at a much slower pace. I suspect that the next several decades of such will be essential and productive flights only, rather than calling most of it "Basic Research." Wish them well, as well as safe. -C.

Frank Van Haste said...

I believe you've got the basics right, Craig. I hope that the unmanned programs go forward aggressively in the "basic research" arena, and that manned programs follow at a deliberate pace, doing the "applied research" that will make access to space an ordinary thing.

At 63, I don't expect that I'll live to see the latter process bear significant fruit, but maybe my son will.

Hey. We've got time.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.