The government abandoned the U.S. manned space program when NASA retired the Space Shuttle fleet. I was, I admit, a bit dismayed. This abandonment started years ago through the Clinton and Bush administrations and culminated (no surprise) during the Obama years. It seemed America was going to give this arena to the Chinese as well.
We've heard rumblings for decades of private space related business filling the void. Frankly I didn't believe it was possible simply because the cost benefit ratio was so skewed. That was before NASA retired the only feasible delivery vehicle they had. The door was opened for contractors. The Russians stepped up first, but no one was overly comfortable with that arrangement. Last year Russia had a major disaster that put in question their ability to fill the void left by the demise of the Shuttle. Europe and Japan have demonstrated the ability to deliver cargo to space, but both march to the tune of their own drummer.
Welcome the Dragon
Last week SpaceX, the brain child of Internet billionaire Elon Musk successfully launched a SpaceX rocket and has since docked it's Dragon capsule with the International Space Station. It was an unprecedented cooperative effort by a private company and the U.S. space agency NASA. The Dragon brought along 1,000 pounds of food, clothes, batteries and
other critical provisions. This is thrilling in so many ways.
NASA has expertise but lacks vision and a national purpose (read funding ). SpaceX and others have a vision and it culminates in the one thing that ultimately drives everything forward, profit. These company's see dollar signs in the stars. Precious minerals by the ton orbit the sun and it is beginning to seem that soon they could be within reach.
You ask, why not just focus on the huge percentage of the Earth that has not been explored or exploited for it's minerals, namely the 75% of the world that is covered by oceans? It is costly and dangerous to mine the oceans. Yes, of course, it's both costly and dangerous to mine space too, but there are few if any environmental issues in space. As well, there are no sovereignty issues, no mineral rights and few regulations in space. Yet...
Until the Dragon, only major governments have had the wherewithal to launch cargo ships to the
space station. Yes, Russia, Japan and Europe will keep providing supplies. Russia will continue to contract rides to U.S. astronauts until
SpaceX or other companies are completely ready to take over.
This is truly a great story, made possible I suppose by government getting out of the overpriced, under performing and bloated system we had grown used to.