SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket made it to orbit pretty much on target yesterday, and they have a lot to celebrate. They lost the first stage when it crashed into the ocean, but overall, it was a success.
A company that is about 8 years old spent a reported $400 million to get to orbit. That’s pretty cool any way you look at it. Saving money is very tempting, and America loves a good story. We like rugged individualism, people overcoming odds, taking risks and going great things. We like to think that’s what America is all about. (Wave the flag!) SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk is South African, but never mind, everyone is American if they fit the story.
Reactions in the mainstream news and both the informed and uninformed blogs have been predictable, but we are not hearing from the right people. We hear from Musk, a smart and happy guy, and politicians. We already know what they are going to say! The debate is weak. Space travel is a dangerous and very technical business, and news needs to be seeking out some informed opinion besides a smart guy speaking for his company and some critics in congress that are more worried about elections than requirements and safety factors. Something or someone is missing.
A scan of the news right now would indicate that the commercial era has arrived. Well kinda. In a way, it’s already here because private companies have been part of spaceflight even before Apollo. Most of NASA’s money has gone to private contractors all along. On the other hand, turning everything from design to systems integration, development, construction and testing over to a single company has its issues.
Those issues deserve careful logical, consideration, especially because of the timing.
The whole thing is incredibly political, since the Obama administration wants to use commercial sources to launch crews to orbit, and give NASA other things to do. Obama’s 2011 budget cancels Constellation and relies on companies like SpaceX. Congress needs to agree, and it’s had the ball for months and it’s taking too long to either agree or not.
Meanwhile NASA centers that are still working on Constellation are in limbo, legally bound to keep working on Constellation, even though it’s likely that its crew rocket, Ares 1, won’t go forward. Years of work now seems like a bit of a waste of time. A lot of good people don’t know what they will be working on a year from now, and watch the news while politicians talk and news people try and sort it out.
Those news people could be doing a better job. They need to be talking to people who know something. Reactions to the SpaceX launch that people see and read are coming from people in congress that have the ball, not from space experts and engineers. Let’s hear from them!
Back when NASA was building Apollo, if news wanted to go to the source, NASA had a face and a name, Werner von Braun, an engineer. He walked and talked like an engineer, and had an engineer’s opinion. Things have changed. Today the NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is a Marine, an ex-astronaut and a good guy, but with all due respect, his job is political, and so are his critics. When he goes to congress to try and sell the administration’s new plans for NASA, he gets beat on by politicians, mainly the ones from states with NASA centers working on Constellation-the same people that were talking to the media yesterday about SpaceX.
A significant news event happened yesterday. The media covered the buildup and the launch very well. It was cool to see. The day after is disappointing. The media had no von Braun to ask “Hey, does this make any sense?”Share