“Look Boss, de plane, de plane!”

Pardoning the horrible Fantasy Island reference in the title, this week’s post is pretty darn cool. I’m hoping that the extreme coolness of this post will make up for my laziness last week and resultant lack of a post.

As I covered in my previous post (“Mo’ money, mo’ problems…”), the Obama Administration’s new plan for NASA involves the retirement of the Space Shuttles and a move towards the privatization of space exploration. In accordance with this new objective, the Federal Aviation Administration granted the first ever to license for orbital re-entry to a private company on Monday to space entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company plans a December launch of one of its Falcon 9 rockets carrying a capsule dubbed Dragon (pictured below).The mission calls for the capsule to go into two low-Earth orbits then re-enter the atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean. The feat will be more impressive because only six nations or governmental agencies have ever successfully achieved re-entry from orbit; SpaceX would be the first ever private company to accomplish it.

SpaceX‘s prototype crew capsule, the Dragon, at the company’s headquarters in California.

SpaceX is struggling to find it’s niche in the growing commercialization of space flight. Back in 2004, it was Mojave Aerospace Ventures that successfully launched the first privately funded spaceflight with SpaceShipOne and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has already tested its VSS Enterprise and revealed plans for its Spaceport America in New Mexico. Even NASA might be trying to throw its hat into the developing commercialization of spaceflight. Rumors have been swilling that NASA may be trying to resurrect the once highly-touted, but never successful X-34 space planes. If the space planes cannot be repaired and made flightworthy, then they may simply be sold off to private industry to be used as design prototypes. In any case, NASA is definitely interested in trying to help along the process of industrialization as much as it can. In fact, the launches of SpaceX’s Dragon rockets to supply cargo to the International Space Station will be overseen and guided by NASA. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX hopes to one day transport passengers as well as cargo aboard the Dragons.

At the moment though, SpaceX seems to be focusing more one the needs of NASA and trying to replace the U.S. government’s role in space exploration than Virgin Galactic and Mojave Aerospace Venture seem to be. The latter seem to be focusing more on the budding industry of space exploration and much less on trying to develop cargo-lifting rockets. In any case, be sure to check back in a few weeks for a post about the outcome of SpaceX’s Dragon launch.


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