Space Flight Celebrates 50 Years On The Moon
Commercial space flight, much like a volatile romance, has experienced its ups and downs and despite major advances and gazillions of test flights, it still is. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first time man planted its feet firmly on the surface of the moon, and its fast shaping up to be a destiny-defining year for commercial space flight.
On the down side there’s the recent crash of the unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft; a capsule that had been designed to carry a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station; and on the up side there’s Amazon Founder Jeff Bezoz’s Blue Origin and its 11th successful test flight. Also on the up-and-up is Sir Richard Branson. Branson has announced that he plans to board his Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo as early as July for the company’s first planned commercial space flight; this as a special commemoration of Apollo II’s stellar success 50 years ago.
The NASA-contracted SpaceX program is the heavy in the space-exploring trilogy. It has, despite the recent unmanned crash, achieved a lot of success in its space endeavours. Basically, SpaceX has picked up where NASA’s space shuttles has left off. With heavy-tech and NASA’s resources on its side, its managed to develop rockets that are strong enough and advanced enough to deliver satellites into space. Bringing cargo to astronauts at the NASA’s space station is a breeze and the Falcon Heavy flagship rocket is advanced enough to reach the moon, Mars, and beyond.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are much smaller, being completely privately run and owned, but their targets and markets are very different to that of SpaceX. To them, it’s all about offering ordinary civilians the opportunity to experience life beyond Earth’s outer limits.
Reaching For The Stars
Blue Origin’s method is simple: blast-off happens from a launch pad, after which the rocket deposits the crew-and-passenger-manned capsule just above 100km above Earth’s surface, which is considered to the right on the boundary of outer space. There, passengers and crew float around in weightless bliss for a few minutes, after which a parachute deploys and the capsule floats back down to not very far from whence it was launched.
As for Virgin Galactic, the experience is much more that of being in a space-style passenger plane. It even takes off from what appears to be a typical airport runway. It too is rocketed into space after take-off, after which it glides slowly back down to its home-runway.
For both companies it’s all about the common goal of being able to offer space flights to private citizens, space researchers, artists and the like, at a much lower cost than what government agencies have been able to do. And whilst “lower” doesn’t yet exactly equate to “affordable”, its hopefully the start of a process that will eventually enable ordinary men and women to not only reach for the stars, but also to touch them.