So where's the drama, Mr. Elon Musk, epitome of brash entrepreneurship, so cocky you rub a few people the wrong way? Falcon9, your bigger rocket, the one designed to make serious money, takes off yesterday morning, stages itself to orbit bingity bang, leaves the Dragon cargo capsule there to zip around Earth two times, and then the precious thing that could soon be delivering payloads for NASA sways under its 'chutes into the Pacific almost exactly on time. I missed the ascent live but watched the video of it shortly afterward yesterday morning. Boring. Nominal this and nominal that. Mission accomplished, not a scratch. Nothing, not one single thing, so they said at the press conference later, went wrong or made Musk and the rest of the ground crew tense or hunch suddenly over the readout screens. SpaceX has had its screwups and experiences with bad luck in some earlier launches of its smaller Falcon rocket. But this latest went swimmingly, as did an earlier flight of the Falcon9 in June. The nine is for the nonet of kerosene burning motors in the tail. On the drawing board is a still larger one, Falcon9 Heavy, its first stage a set of three regular Falcon9 primaries roped together. So far so good.
Anyway the company formally known as Space Exploration Technologies really earned its registered nickname SpaceX, as in not for kids. It now looks like a fully grown-up, adult company, trusted with the car keys and to drink wine with dinner. Maybe the next launch squirts sideways, or several ways at once, in the stratosphere and rains its remains into the Atlantic. But for now things look smooth, cool, collected, and competitive. Now if the Tesla car company, Musk's other wild venture into another tough business, can deliver its four-door electric S sedan to market maybe I'll dream of having the guts and money to buy one.
The NYTimes's Kenneth Chang set the stage in yesterday's paper with a keenly-reported explainer of the stakes, with a concise summary of the market SpaceX may serve if its new rocket worked this and a few more times. And this morning he describes the launch, capturing quite well both the impressive near-perfection (the splash-down was 52 seconds later than scheduled!) of the test and the flabbergasted near-loss of cool by Musk, usually it says here a "man whose outsize confidence can verge on arrogance." Exactly right, although I prefer the adjectival form "outsized" for its greater verbish vigor. Anyway, lookit that thing. If you built such a machine almost entirely on your own gumption (and a lot of hired talent) you'd strut too.
Several articles are openly enthused and congragulatory, just like me. The Atlantic's noted national correspondent, James Fallows, briefly wrote up the test's results under the hed Well Done SpaceX, Elon Musk, et al. The bulk of the post is a partial repeat of a previous Q&A Fallows had the foresight to conduct with Musk recently. At MSNBC's Cosmic Log, Jay Barbree, NBC's Cape Canaveral reporter who has covered every manned launch in history from the place, filed it under the hed Something wonderful happened here. ;
And AP's Marcia Dunn captured the mission's promise succinctly in her lede. She started it off "NASA took a giant leap away from the spaceflight business Wednesday as a private company launched...." etc.
I dunno his party affiliation. While Musk has donated some money to Republicans over the years, it's been mainly to Democrats (data). This success certainly provides a small boost for The White House. Obama is determined to scotch the NASA in-house rocket contracting program that was supposed to provide a new human-hauling capsule and boosters able to get them to the moon and Mars. He intends to award the business of taking people to space to cab and livery services that build and design their own vehicles and do so largely on their own dimes. In between government jobs, they can cater to super-rich tourists. Dunn put her finger precisely on that with her opening angle.
A few other stories:
- Washington Post - Marc Kauffman: SpaceX rocket launch heralded as successful test of commercial spaceflight ;
- Wired - Jason Paur: SpaceX Dragon Flight Earns Praise, Opens Doors ;
- BBC News: Dragon private spacecraft's successful test flight
- CNET - William Harwood: SpaceX test flight of cargo craft a success; "mind blowingly awesome" is in the lede, a quote from you-know-who. Good selection of photos too.
- MSNBC Alan Boyle: Dragon could visit space station next ; This is a more or less standard news story, well put together. Boyle also covered this story live largely via twitter, with a few longer extracts from his and others' tweets. This is a media mode that is very popular. I must confess to find it fragmented and unsatisfying. Maybe if I tried being an up-to-date twitterzen I'd think differently.
- Christian Science Monitor - Pete Spotts: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch: First step of new space era? Hmm. Right theme, but the hed? One thinks Orbital Sciences with its Pegasus launcher might well claim to have taken the first significant step into a private space age. But this surely could be a larger step. Spotts fills us in quick on what cargo gave the capsule some ballast: thousands of commemorative mission patches. Many, one suspects if Musk is as smart as he appears, to members of Congress by SpaceX's lobbyists and other friends.
- NPR /All Things Considered- Joe Palca: We Have Liftoff: SpaceX Launches Test Spacecraft ; Usual wise, funny Palca - and he makes good use of all the "nominals" from mission control.
- Time Magazine - Jeffrey Kluger : Could Private Space Flight Make NASA Irrelevant? ; Pretty silly story, filed just before the launch. It is a pastiche of thoughts that don't all cohere. The hed is not off-base from the story - Luger really does think NASA just took a "giant leap toward effective irrelevance...". Two things wrong with that. First, NASA and its foreign, governmental partners are still to be the paying customers. Second, this fellow appears to thoughtlessly think NASA's only job is to put people in space even though, if one asked him, he'd probably remember hearing about Cassini at Saturn, the rovers on Mars, and various space telescopes that NASA operates. Note that in her story the AP's Dunn referred to NASA's sidle away from the "spaceflight business." In NASA-ese, spaceflight means with people. She didn't forecast a demise for the agency altogether.
- ... could do more
Grist for the Mill:
SpaceX Falcon9 news ;
Dept. of irrelevant, except for context:
AP man Seth Borenstein - and thank you very much (and yes I know Seth's last name, see added remark in another post today, on life in space, a few items up) - recently sent a note urging our attention to NPR and a blogpost by the formidably talented Robert Krulwich. This one discusses a new mapping application that shows the sizes of unfamiliar things by superimposing them over familiar things. His first example is the footprint of Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's moon wanderings in 1969 set upon a soccer field or, alternately, a baseball field. It's worth reading for its basic info but mostly because the very-private Armstrong liked it so much that, unbidden, he sent Krulwich an expansive note on it, to which the updated story links.
Third, Krulwich's account serves as a reminder how long mankind has been doing spectacular things off-planet, and how far SpaceX must go to fully stand-in for regulation government work. I heartily wish it luck.
- Charlie Petit