What On Earth Has Happened?

Published at 3/11/2017 at 12:27 AM

Bear with my jokes here; it’s part of the experience.

Before we dive any further into the private space-travel industry, its important to understand what led up to its emergence. This will help us develop an appreciation of the conditions that set up for the industry’s emergence and growing significance, and a deeper sense of the role it is filling in space exploration today.

Now, I’m not going to go back all the way to 1961, when JFK announced to the world, in so many words, that it was on. I’ll assume that you already have a fairly solid knowledge about all that – and if you don’t, you can read about it here. Instead, I’m going to give a brief description of what the situation is now, and how it got this way. It is a story of disaster, discouragement, uncertainty, irony, hope, and finally, rebirth.

Where we are now in regards to space exploration

I say rebirth instead of revival, because we didn’t just resuscitate the U.S space exploration after a period of decline and various disasters; instead, something very similar and yet not quite like anything that came before sprang up from the ashes.

Right now, we are on the verge of finally getting on our feet again after years of discouragement and placing our dreams on the back-burner.

A number of disasters and mounting international concerns led us to our current state of affairs.

In a twist of irony, NASA hitches a ride with the Russians

And now we have rely on other countries allowing us to ride on their spacecrafts to get our astronauts to the ISS, mainly with the Russians.

Given our cold war history with the region that was formerly the Soviet Union, I have to say two things about this. First, it is an incredibly ironic turn of events that would almost be funny if it wasn’t also sad, and second, regardless of whatever may be going on right now, it has to be to acknowledged that it was quite a show of goodwill on the part of the Russian Space Agency to help NASA continue its pursuits. In a way, it was a good thing, because it signaled that the cold war really was in the past, and it was encouraging that the two countries were able to work together. I also think, however, that we can all agree when I say the U.S should really have its own fully functioning space program. After all, goodwill aside, it’s still not exactly a free ride we’re getting here. According to Business Insider, by 2018 NASA is projected to end up paying a grand total of 3.3 billion to the Russian government in return for the use of their rockets. An astronomical price that would justify focusing on speeding up the rebuilding of our aerospace infrastructure, especially since it would likely help stimulate our economy somewhat.

How the space exploration got to where it is now: so, how did NASA come to this terrible less than ideal state?

No more commercial cargo allowed on the shuttle… so now what do we do?

Create your own space transport business, of course. According to this article, the 1980’s ban on commercial goods being flown on the space shuttle propelled the creation of a private space industry.

A number of disasters

  • Delta rocket fire in 1963. Three technicians killed
  • 1967 launchpad fire. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed in a sudden fire that engulfed them while they were testing the space-craft for the Apollo-Saturn mission.
  • Challenger disaster in 1986. This event shocked the nation, particularly because among those killed was a civilian – a schoolteacher named Barbara Morgan. To make matters worse, schoolchildren across the nation were watching via live broadcast as the disaster happened.
  • The Columbia Disaster in 2003
  •  Image result for space shuttle columbia crew                                                                  This was probably the final straw.

The demise of the shuttle program

Image result for space shuttle in museum

All these tragedies understandably  led to everyone being a little wary of spaceflight. We phased out our shuttles, viewing them as an essentially dangerous design, while not knowing quite what to replace them with. The Atlantis, seen above, made its last flight on July 8th 2011. It was the last shuttle to fly, and no more were made after that. It was the sun setting on an entire era of spaceflight, and a long night would pass before the dawn of a new one.

Image result for space shuttle in museum

So as we started slowly edging away from manned spaceflight, we began to focus on sending out space probes for awhile. Don’t get me wrong, this was a productive time. We learned a lot from the probes we sent out, but we still had the urge to explore the great, vast, alluring, and mysterious space beyond the Earth for ourselves.

The start of a beautiful relationship

Those were the conditions that incentivized the government to start the Commercial Crew Program. After the space shuttle was retired, they were already looking towards the private aerospace industry to carry on the torch, with the plan originally being that commercial spacecraft would take over by 2015, according to the Business Insider article. But then their plans were derailed after the companies that were supposed to lead the way had a few accidents themselves.

More disasters make good plans go awry

However, private industries are no more immune to disaster than public ones, and a few accidents  and various safety concerns led to delay.

Other concerns took center stage,

Big scary concerns such as terrorism, two wars, and economic crash distracted us from all thoughts of, say, going back to the moon, for quite a while . Although this will probably have to wait to be covered in a different article, you can see how exploring space might have been placed on the back-burner.

So here we are today

And we have a long way to go. But just think, despite the setbacks, in all probability we have very interesting times ahead of us. Yes, because of safety concerns, we have to take our time. We will have to be patient, and it will be costly, but the private space industry is still steadily taking flight. The government could help speed up this process by providing further support to these companies as they develop their technologies. It will be for the good of us all.

What do you think? Is commercial spaceflight the future? I’d like to really get a conversation started with my readers, so please feel free to chime in. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d like to build a community on here. Why settle for one way conversation when you can have two, or three, or one-hundred people all adding to it at once? That’s much more fun, informative, and interesting in my book.

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