Likewise, as long as Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) costs under $450 million per launch and doesn't explode 2 out of 135 times, it beats the government-run Space Shuttle program, which became basically a UPS truck for the International Space Station. One launch is done, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off nicely and the Dragon capsule docked with the ISS. Because this is a commercial project it can't dock automatically, like ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle or Russia's Soyuz, so it stopped 10 yards from the berth and a robotic arm guided it in.
Look for Dragon to leave its orbital home next Wednesday. It will take about 30 minutes to return to terra firma after it deorbits and it will splash into the Pacific Ocean rather than land on a runway. Old school.
Dragon as seen from the International Space Station during maneuvering May 24th, 2012. Credits: NASA/ESA
Columnist Dr. David Brin got to see the Dragon module last month and reports that is not the only commercial space venture worth getting excited about.
But it's worth getting excited about right this moment.
"By handing off space station transportation to the private sector, NASA is freed up to carry out the really hard work of sending astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. The Obama Administration has set us on an ambitious path forward and the NASA and SpaceX teams are proving they are up to the task," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Well, maybe. The only reason President Obama seems to have canceled the Constellation Program was to replace it with something that did not have his predecessor's name on it, a move no president had ever done before (imagine if Richard Nixon had called the Moon landing off because it was the work of Jack Kennedy - the man who basically stole the election from Nixon) and it may be that whoever succeeds him, in 7 months or 55, will do the same thing. We'll never get anywhere if billions of dollars are going to be thrown out over vanity but precedents are precedents.
SpaceX kept the costs low and even made some money on the deal. They have an agreement with Celestis (part of Space Services, Inc. - who did the first-ever private launch in 1982), to launch human ashes into space, and 310 lucky urns were on this voyage.
Want to go? You have to be dead, so the price is a little steep, but at least you get a 10 percent discount if you are a veteran. That's good to know for some Memorial Day Weekend in the (hopefully) distant future.
It's not junk mail, it's jobs mail, if you are a government union employee.