‘The Force Awakens’ for Commercial Space Flight and Space Tourism
On July 20, 1969, one of the greatest feats of humanity occurred as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” having landed successfully on the surface of the moon. This awe-inspiring move of pure human achievement brought us to the first celestial body outside of our planetary home, Earth. I personally still believe this to be the single most incredible accomplishment of history; with it, a whole generation of budding, impressionable children were inspired to look to the stars and dream of pushing the frontiers as the next group of explorers and astronauts. Today, a drastic change has taken place with this awe-inspiring space travel. Cutting edge space travel technologies no longer comes from government agencies like NASA or Roscosmos that powered the Space Race of the 1960s, but instead from the private sector.
Only a month ago, on February 6, 2018, SpaceX, one of the first private space corporations, had a successful launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, a massive rocket designed to be load carrying and rival some of the largest rockets of history. Elon Musk’s SpaceX operates on the thesis that if they can reuse the rockets and only need to refill on fuel, they can dramatically reduce the cost of space flight and lower the barrier to entry. In a moment that will go down in history, the Falcon Heavy launch propelled a Tesla Roadster into space before returning both rocket boosters to launch pads in a tandem vertical descent. I got goosebumps just from the video of the launch and emotion from the SpaceX team because of the incredible success of the descent.
What this tells you, the excited future astronaut, is that the age of space travel is back! Companies are springing up all over - the billionaire’s hobby space company (like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins) to innovative satellite companies poised to send dozens of tiny satellites into space to map the planet in real time. These new ventures hopefully glimpse at the next space age toward which we are headed. But when can you and I get in a rocket and go to the moon or Mars? That is the question I always ask and desperately want to know the answer to.
Elon Musk has been known to make some totally unrealistic claims, but in all fairness, his companies seem continually to do unrealistic things. At one point, he said that commercial space flights would start as soon as this year; however, it seems exceedingly likely that this will not happen. Currently, it might be a bit more likely if you test your luck at getting into the astronaut program for the 2030s NASA mission Orion that will aim to send men to Mars. However, all of this novel investment in and initiatives for space flight have once again rejuvenated the excitement that used to be present around the mystery of outer space. Ultimately, you may have to shell out millions of dollars to be one of the first space tourists, but regardless, it is coming soon; and the first people to be space tourists will be a big step forward in the progress of moving toward the final frontier of space and reigniting the innate curiosity of humanity.