2012 in Science: Private Spaceflight

2012 in Science: Private Spaceflight

San Francisco : CA : USA | Dec 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM PST
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People watch as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, attached to its cargo-only Dragon capsule, is raised into launch position

Only time will tell, but 2012 may be most remembered as the year that space tourism became officially a thing. Living in a Jetsons-style world may not be that far off, if several innovative minds have anything to say about it.

While discussing the privatizing of space has gone on for years, decades even, this was the first year a private company actually sent a spacecraft into outer space.

That company was SpaceX (Space Exploration Technology Corporation) and the spacecraft was the Dragon.

On October 29th, a little after noon PST, the Dragon successfully completed its mission by splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, ending the first ever commercial spaceflight.

The Dragon wasn’t trudging space tourists to the heavens—that’s a hurdle the industry still has to leap (and probably will soon). The unmanned vessel carted supplies to and from the International Space Station. It delivered 900 pounds of food, water and essential equipment to the ISS.

Ideally, NASA will be able to turn to these private ventures to complete some of the simpler, less scientific, yet still important, tasks. Therefore, the American space agency is more than happy to have the private competition.

“This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration’s overall space policy,” wrote NASA spokesman David Weaver, NASA spokesperson, “to create an environment where commercial space companies can build upon NASA’s past successes, allowing the agency to focus on the new challenges of sending humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars.”

In an interesting turn of events, the Dragon was supplying the ISS while the 40-year-old space shuttle Endeavour was getting towed through Los Angeles towards its final resting place—a symbolic passing of the space guard.

SpaceX has much bigger plans. Elon Musk, the company’s founder, raised a few eyebrows last month when he suggested a Mars colony is in the works.

“Millions of people needed for Mars colony, so 80k+ would just be the number moving to Mars per year,” he tweeted, clarifying some logistics of his plan.

Another company, Golden Spike, also turned heads when it announced it’s selling seats for a trip to the moon, with estimated takeoff in 2020.

“Two seats, 750 [million] each,” CEO Alan Stern said at a press conference. “The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this.”

“We realize this is the stuff of science fiction,” Stern continued, “We intend to make it science fact.”

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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on Sunday, launching the cargo-laden Dragon capsule into Earth's orbit
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on Sunday, launching the cargo-laden Dragon capsule into Earth's orbit
Barry Eitel is based in Oakland, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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