In 2011, NASA’s Space Shuttle program officially shut down. The Challenger and Columbia disasters uncovered some serious issues that will stain aerospace history forever. But at the same time, it ushered in a new era of space exploration. Over the last decade, private companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX have launched their own space endeavors. Seeing the potential that space travel has for humanity, these visionaries are taking space exploration to the next level. And for the moment, it appears that SpaceX might be taking the lead.
The recently announced SpaceX launch schedule now includes a potentially historic launch for May 27th, 2020. With good weather and a lack of unforeseen glitches, SpaceX plans to send 2 NASA astronauts into space. Aerospace history will be made if their mission is successful. It will represent the first time a private company has sent anyone into orbit. Of course, many things could go wrong, as both NASA and SpaceX well know. And arranging a SpaceX launch schedule in the midst of a global pandemic certainly isn’t ideal.
“I have a huge amount of respect for what Elon and the SpaceX team have achieved in such a short period of time. My respect is magnified because I know something of the enormous challenges involved in reinventing human spaceflight for the 21st century…” – Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic
SpaceX Launch Schedule’s Mission
The current SpaceX launch schedule is to occur at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 27th. The mission, named “Demo-2,” is to send SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space capsule into orbit to the International Space Station. Two veteran NASA astronauts will be aboard the Crew Dragon, which is why this will mark aerospace history. Bob Behnker and Doug Hurley will be the first astronauts to ever be catapulted into space by a private firm. To say this SpaceX launch schedule is being met with high levels of anticipation is definitely an understatement.
At the current time, the U.S. has only one astronaut at the International Space Station. Not having any way to put additional astronauts in orbit has been a thorn in the nation’s side for the last decade. Most recently, the U.S. has had to rely on Russian space transit to take astronauts to and from space. But this has limited progress for the space program in many ways. This is a major reason why SpaceX has been granted a major contract by NASA in its space exploration efforts. NASA hopes to again return to its glory days that it used to enjoy in its aerospace history.
“There was a popular perception that these were a bunch of people who didn’t really know what they were doing. It wasn’t just a bunch of surfer dudes in a garage living in their parents’ basement and building rockets. It was a real impressive, large-scale operation.” – Garrett Reisman, Former NASA astronaut
SpaceX Enters the Space Race
SpaceX, which is short for Space Exploration Technologies, was not expected to realize any significant success by many. But it has been a major industry disruptor. Elon Musk, the brainchild of the company, invested $100 million of his own money into the project. But he did so against the advice of trusted friends and family. No one believed anyone without any education or experience in rockets should be launching a space company. But as Musk has done in other instances, he set out to prove them wrong. If the SpaceX launch schedule goes as planned, he will do just that.
SpaceX enjoyed some advantages along the way. In 2010, President Obama cancelled NASA’s Constellation Program, which was over-budget and well behind schedule. This program was supposed to design a fleet of spacecrafts for NASA. Subsequently, NASA signed a contract with SpaceX as part of its Commercial Crew program. To date, NASA has helped fund SpaceX’s efforts with more than $3 billion in grants. Ultimately, with ongoing success, this figure may climb as high a $30 billion in time.
“If there’s a test program and nothing happens in that test program, I would say it’s insufficiently rigorous. If there hasn’t been hardware that’s blown up on a test stand, I don’t think you’ve tested it hard enough. You’ve got to push the envelope.” – Elon Musk, Founder of SpaceX
Embracing Failures as Opportunities for Success
One feature that separates SpaceX apart from others is its philosophy regarding testing. Musk sees testing as a way to push designs and developments to the limit. If something is going to go wrong, then it only makes sense to have it do so during testing. With this in mind, SpaceX has had its share of mishaps throughout its aerospace history. For example, three consecutive testing launches resulted in a failure to reach orbit. Likewise, the SpaceX launch schedule has seen explosions to two Falcon-9 rockets and one Dragon spacecraft. But with each setback, the SpaceX team has learned a great deal.
In 2008, these insights resulted in a successful SpaceX launch schedule of a dummy satellite. The success awarded SpaceX a $1.6 million support grant from NASA to begin taking cargo to the International Space Station. These successes also allowed SpaceX to surpass Boeing and Lockheed Martin in access to government contracts. Combined with SpaceX’s reusable rocket boosters, the company has taken the lead among modern-day space exploration pursuits. It would thus seem that aerospace history is taking a different path as it moves into the future.
“One day it will be like commercial airline travel, just not yet. It’s like 1920. Lindbergh hasn’t flown the Atlantic, and they’re trying to sell 747s to Pan Am.” – Mike Griffin, Former NASA Administrator
An Exciting New Era in Aerospace History
Both NASA and SpaceX are hopeful that all systems will be a go for the SpaceX launch schedule in May. Anything is possible, however. With a global coronavirus pandemic, half of SpaceX’s engineers are working from home. Naturally, this creates some level of concern and caution. But given aerospace history for NASA, everyone is being vigilant in their preparations. And everyone is excited about the future potential a successful mission might introduce. No matter what, SpaceX will be making aerospace history in its efforts to privatize space travel. And it will indeed be a giant leap for mankind if all goes as planned.