Due to high costs, the renowned American space company, NASA, has not been able to ferry astronauts to space from American soil for almost a decade. This has left American astronauts dependent on Russian space agencies for travel and has immensely staggered their advancements in space research and exploration. Unfortunately, this has come at a great cost for the American economy as well. However, this has changed with the most recent collaboration between NASA and the private aerospace manufacturer, Space X which offered advanced machinery while maintaining low costs. This historic achievement enabled two NASA astronauts to go to space at noon on May 30, 2020, from American soil. With this newfound innovation and a strong sense of hope, many argue that this marks a revolution of space travel.
The NASA and SpaceX launch: A Possible New Age of Space Travel?
From natural disasters to a global pandemic, this year has brought monumental changes that have put a halt to our daily life. However, the whole world retreated from their routines to mark yet another historical moment this past week: the launch of two NASA Astronauts from American soil for the first time in almost a decade. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, NASA’s most skilled astronauts, left Cape Canaveral, Florida at noon on May 30, 2020.1 Then, they embarked on a nineteen-hour long journey with a destination of the International Space Station (ISS), a spacecraft in Earth’s orbit which serves as a living area and space research lab for astronauts; there the American astronaut, Chriss Cassidy, and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, awaited for their arrival.1,3 This trip was made possible as a result of a partnership between the arising private space manufacturer, SpaceX, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). However, many argue that May 30 did not just mark a comeback in space operations for the US but signified a glimmer of hope and a revolution for the future of space travel.
After a very successful series of missions conducted by NASA, including the historic moon landing, the Apollo program, responsible for their completion, hit a stall in its achievements. As a result of this and extremely high costs that were associated with machine development and mission execution, the program was terminated in 1972.1 Soon after, the closure of the space shuttle program in 2011 followed. This left NASA unable to send astronauts to space, leaving it completely dependent on Russian space shuttles for travel.1 This staggered the US’ potential for cosmic research and exploration and signified the end of NASA’s “golden age.”
Fortunately, the private company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 called SpaceX has worked towards more efficient and affordable aerospace machinery for the past twelve years. Throughout recent years, SpaceX has partnered another American private manufacturer, Orbital ATK, and NASA to carry out commercial resupply survives (CRS) which carry materials to the ISS.4 These missions enabled the US to continue to be present and conduct studies in space. However, SpaceX wanted to take this feat a step further and attempt to carry humans to space. The mission of May 30th also named the Demo-2 test mission, was the first step to assuring this as it acted as it evaluated if SpaceX was fit to carry humans to space. As a result of its successful mission as a private firm, only achieved by two other countries in the world, NASA and SpaceX re-opened a new age of exploration and a golden opportunity for the US to reach for the stars.
What does this mean about the US economy?
For the past nine years, American astronauts have used Russian spacecraft to travel into space. Not only did this serve as an embarrassment for the US as it now relied upon the hands of its past competitor in the renowned space race, but it also tremendously harmed its economy. Russia demanded up to $90 million per astronaut for each trip to space, severely restricting the US’ possibility to travel.1 However, this cycle was broken with NASA’s recent collaboration with SpaceX as prices for manufacturing and execution are much lower. According to Quantity Analytics, NASA rewarded Space X with $1.25 billion to construct the Crew Dragon which was used to carry out the CRS and Demo-2 missions.1 Meanwhile, the Planetary Society reported that it would cost $27.4 billion to construct it. Furthermore, NASA reports that this mission costs $55 million for each astronaut, as opposed to $90 required by the Russian companies. These enormous differences in price clearly display Space X’s much more sustainable alternative, which as a result, saved America $20 billion in taxpayer money.1
This method of approach proved to overcome one of the main reasons that lead to the prior space program’s demise, high cost. With this barrier gone, American space companies will be able to make tremendous progress which will shape the future of space exploration for the US and the world.
What does it mean about Space X?
This recent collaboration did not just aid the US though. The private sector was benefited as well, especially SpaceX. The legitimacy of Musk’s space initiative has often been questioned within the general public and scientific community. As a result of some publicized prototype failures, including spacecraft explosions, many did not see the possible partnership between NASA and SpaceX as fruitful. However, these doubts were put at rest after the completion of the Demo-2 demo and NASA’s strong appraisal. The company’s most recent success validated their work and has paved the way for many potential collaborations with other organizations in the public and private sectors.
However, Space X’s success will also greatly affect the future of its technology. With the completion of the Demo-2 mission, Space X is now fit to carry humans to space. With this comes a plethora of new possibilities and aspirations, including getting humans to Mars and even space tourism through private flights. 1 Currently, Space X is planning on moving to the second stage of the mission, called Crew-1, which involves carrying four astronauts to space.2
What does this mean about the future of space travel?
After nearly a decade of quiet from the US aerospace manufacturers and a heavy year filled with upsetting developments, the Demo-2 mission appeared to be a glimmer of hope in the eyes of millions of Americans. With hundreds of them lining up in the Kennedy Space Center to see this historic launch, many saw it as a sign of solidarity through challenging times. With this new and effective emerging technology, the possibilities of what NASA and SpaceX can achieve are great and maybe, even revolutionary to space exploration.
The most recent collaboration between SpaceX and NASA marked the return of the US in independent space travel. With it came enormous financial savings, innovative technologies, and a newfound sense of unity within the American nation, opening the door to an intriguing future in space travel.
Although this mission was successful there are still many challenges ahead. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind the importance of innovation, perseverance, and curiosity. Now all that is left is to ask: Where to next?
- Sheetz, Michael. 2020. “Why The First SpaceX Astronaut Launch Marks A Crucial Leap For NASA’s Ambitions”. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/03/first-spacex-astronaut-launch-marks-crucial-leap-for-nasa-ambitions.html.
- O’Callaghan, Jonathan. 2020. “Spacex Makes History With First-Ever Human Rocket Launch For NASA”. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanocallaghan/2020/05/30/spacex-makes-history-with-first-ever-human-rocket-launch-for-nasa/#694f8fd35321.
- “What Is The International Space Station?”. 2020. NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-the-iss-58.html.
- “Dragon Capsule Achieves Orbit, Heads Towards Space Station”. 2020. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/30/spacex-nasa-launch-live-updates/.
About the Author
Andri Kadaifciu is a high school students based in Massachusetts, USA. She is interested in biomedical sciences, and is currently researching a range of deseases which target the control centers of the body. She loves to use writing as a way to spread knowledge and instill positive change. She is passionate about advocating for environmental sustainability and female voices in STEM.