Will the Falcon 9 rocket change space travel forever?

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Within a single decade, humanity launched its first satellite into space, established several space programs and sent a man to the moon. Unfortunately, and nearly five decades after the initial success of these monumental achievements, we’ve failed to replicate the scale of the early days of space exploration. Although there are several complex reasons why, the answer mostly boils down to the fact that the costs of space travel are significant, and securing funding from the government during a time of political gridlock is an additional obstacle few believe will be overcome anytime soon. Yet there are those who believe that humanity’s future will be determined by its ability to colonize other planets, necessitating a robust space program. Elon Musk is one of them, and he’s trying to turn this into reality with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Musk has made it his mission to commercialize space travel. Earlier this week, Space X–a company founded by Musk–sought to land a Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform in the Atlantic during another mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). This particular mission is aimed at recapturing the rocket with an accuracy of 10 meters, down from 10 kilometers.

SpaceX believes that the Falcon 9 rocket will be able to slash the costs of space travel by a factor of 100 by reusing what we usually jettison into space. If you don’t know how much that is, don’t worry about it; it’s a lot.

Should Musk be successful, he will have revolutionized space travel. No longer will space programs grow stagnant because they lack the funds to progress. The number of commercial programs operating inside and out of the USA will skyrocket. The age-old argument about space travel being too great an expense will finally be gutted for good, and the implications for the future are enormous.

Unfortunately, SpaceX’s mission to land the Falcon 9 rocket was aborted due to technical issues with the rocket’s thrust vector actuators, and has since been rescheduled twice. Crap.

Although Musk had initially proposed about a 50% chance of a successful Falcon 9 rocket landing, he later admitted on the popular social networking website Reddit that he made up the figure. SpaceX had already released a statement suggesting the maneuver would be like “trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.” In other words, no one knows how many attempts SpaceX will have to make before they get it right.

Crap, crap, crap.

Still, Elon Musk has managed to do with a company what only nations had accomplished before him, and we’ll be watching him closely to see what tricks he’s got up his sleeve.

Those interested in watching the next launch attempt can do so from SpaceX’s webcast, which is also providing regular updates on the status of the event. The launch is currently planned for Saturday Jan. 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST.

For now, check out this interview to find out more about Elon Musk and his mission for SpaceX (or if you just want to know a little bit more about what it’s like to purchase ICBMs from Russia):

About Author

Jeff is a self-proclaimed pragmatic futurist; that is, he has high hopes for absurd life-altering technologies which sound too good to be true, and probably are. Although he writes on a variety of subjects, his real passion is for technological innovation and the people who make it happen. By day, he enjoys fuzzy bunnies, kittens, puppies, roller coasters and a sardonic written word or two. By night, he's busy running memyselfandrobot.com, replaying a random Final Fantasy game, or pretending to be Batman. He currently resides in Upstate NY.

1 Comment

  1. churchpi@yahoo.com'

    The media seems to be trying to overthrow physics. Or at least that part of physics the rocket equation is part of. Landing an empty rocket stage on a barge is being shouted from the mountain tops as the beginning of a new age. One comment I recently read compared it to being as significant as the Wright brothers first flight. Wow. The claim that a whole new era of reusable rockets is beginning is exposed as a flim flam when the required unobtanium and wishalloy is found absent from the story.

    A little research shows the Space Shuttle not only had completely reusable first stage boosters but also returned it’s upper stage engines- engines far more powerful and efficient than the hobby rocket. Claiming such a breakthrough is just as bizarre as calling a suborbital tourist conveyance a “space ship.” In fact, even calling the destination of this mediocre lift vehicle a “space station” is not really valid in my view because Low Earth Orbit is not really space- not since humankind moved on to higher domains. Spacecraft and space platforms should be defined as differing from Spaceships and Space Stations in the same way fiberglass canoes and tents differ from ocean going ships and hi-rise buildings.

    LEO has about as much in common with space as a catfish pond does with the North Atlantic. The idea of shuttling small loads into LEO and assembling larger items to travel onward and upward was very popular for several decades but the reality was found to be not so wonderful. The closest useful site for human beings to go in space is Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and is an order of magnitude higher above the surface of our planet. GEO has no protective layer like LEO to keep solar events from dosing astronauts with radiation. So the only human constructs to be found hovering 22,236 miles above us are communications relay stations. Satellites. They don’t last forever and cannot be repaired so this ring around the Earth is slowly turning into a junkyard of space debris.

    An event as significant as the Wright brothers first flight would actually be to go somewhere beyond LEO in a true Spaceship or the positioning of a true Space Station somewhere above LEO. Without unobtanium or wishalloy to overthrow the laws of physics this means those ships and stations, for several reasons, are going to come from the Moon. The ice on the Moon is what will change spaceflight forever because it is a source of radiation shielding 6 times more accessible than Earth.