Whom with? At times the context of SpaceX’s mid-air rocket explosion was hazy, including the claim that the cause was the bottom stage thruster. But in terms of spacecraft design, the launch was a home run – and a near-perfect display of the company’s reusable rocket tech.
Of course, the real key to SpaceX’s success is its certification of its Dragon cargo ship to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The problem is that the rockets, not the cargo, get to meet the station. Here’s the synopsis from the Wall Street Journal:
Last year, NASA certified a Dragon mission to take astronauts to the orbiting outpost — an important step toward sending astronauts on commercial spacecraft. The commercial crew contract, estimated to be worth $6.8 billion through 2020, outlines a series of dates for completing commercial crew tests and certification. These are currently scheduled to begin in late 2018.
Well, it’s not like SpaceX made a pitch to NASA to retire the ISS. But getting certified to fly astronauts isn’t about a solitary mission – it’s about mission. The kinds of missions. Can SpaceX get a crew member to ISS? Can Boeing do it? After the explosion, SpaceX now claims that it’s making preparations to fly astronauts as early as September. In the wake of yesterday’s incident, Boeing faces a new round of delays to its own certification.
In short, there’s very little chance of getting the ISS when all’s said and done. While we know about the spacecraft, what we need to know is the mission. Yesterday’s explosion is a perfect example of both this and why it’s critical for SpaceX to do it right. A craft without proper certification is a floating garbage barge; one with properly certified hardware is a modern crewed space ship. One flies from the pad, the other crawls over with a comforting, old-school harness.
Of course, we’re not talking about a zero-g sultan like the Apollo astronauts from 35 years ago – just three astronauts and a bunch of machinery. The space station isn’t the holy grail of earthly exploration – it may be a nice place to party, but it isn’t some new card to play. That’s why it’s crucial that SpaceX, and Boeing, can complete proper certification of their craft (which have different names, I hasten to add) to meet the demands of NASA. And hey, if all of SpaceX’s manned flights get canceled, that would mean no new launches in 2020 – even if they’re not flying astronauts.
Get your own $12,000 toilet – but only in the US
As I mentioned last week, there’s been some work to improve the weedy WiFi experience inside space hotels. Yesterday, Amazon’s Alexa entered the fray with its Echo Show, a smart speaker with a 7-inch touchscreen that will open the hotel’s bathroom doors and summon help. The big feat of this simple Echo Show is that a mere US$12,000 can get you one. Meanwhile, you can theoretically spend ten times that in outer space. I can think of a few things that would mean more to me than a far away bathroom. But maybe it would be less absurd to get a double-sized black toilet.