Sunday, September 28, 2008

SpaceX Has First Successful Falcon 1 Launch

This is huge: SpaceX has had its first successful launch of a payload to orbit. The launch video can be found here:

Why does this matter? Simple: it brings the U.S. one step closer to not having depend completely upon the Russians or anyone else, for that matter, to get cargo or people to the International Space Station. This is the first privately developed launch vehicle to achieve orbit.

Mind you, this is the Falcon 1, the smaller of Elon Musk's launch vehicles. Falcon 9 is the one that would take cargo to ISS, and the Falcon 9 Heavy variant is supposed to launch crew (aboard the Dragon spacecraft) or cargo to ISS. No doubt SpaceX will face more challenges with Falcon 9, as it did with Falcon 1, but I would hope that the commercial doubters out there have enough good grace to wish SpaceX congratulations. I'm not counting on that 100%. I know a few people who will say, "Yeah, but they haven't put up a working payload, reached 99.9999% reliability, launched heavy cargo, gone to ISS, split the fifth dimension, altered time, sped up the harvest, or saved the galaxy yet." To which I want to respond, "Well, jeez, you've got to start somewhere! And how many launch failures did NASA have when the space program first began?" [Take a look at The Right Stuff book or movie for an answer to that.] An example of this attitude can be found in response to a book review about a book on SpaceShipOne:

So called "Spaceship One" was not in any way a space ship, did not go into "space", did not go into orbit around the Earth, nor was it an achievement in aerospace technology at all. The vehicle was a rocket propelled engineering stunt circa 1955 that burned old rubber tires for fuel! How far are you gonna get on that stuff? The age of freeboot space pioneers financed by freeboot capital has yet to dawn but when the light shines those that go into the High Frontier won't be burning rubber!

I've got to wonder about that sort of psychology: when national capabilities are increased or great achievements are made, what purpose does it serve to put them down or minimize them, except to feed or soothe the egos of others? Still, I take this flight a good sign after three failures.

Am I a little too gung-ho for the commercial sector? I'm not quite sure how. Why should anyone wish them ill, or wish to doubt their abilities? If the private sector can get stuff into space, that is only to NASA's benefit, as the agency will be able to use other providers and eventually to reduce costs to the taxpayer. This launch will increase confidence in Falcon 1, in SpaceX, and in "commercial space" in general. And quite frankly, the space business (and the nation) could use all the confidence it can get right now.

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