Yesterday, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station. Launched using the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon is being used to resupply the ISS under contract with NASA, who can’t launch an Estes rocket for under a couple ten million thanks to their bloated bureaucracy and risk aversion.
I find this, along with Virgin Galactic’s commitment to the SpaceShip series of suborbital craft produced by Burt Rutan to be a major development in space travel — the move from government-funded space ventures to more commercial ones. We’ve seen how fraud, waste, and abuse, not to mention institutional cowardice and shortsightedness, make government programs inefficient, and the stunning expense of breaking out of the gravity well makes it unlikely cash-strapped governments will be able to pay our way offworld anytime.
With the prospect of real estate and material wealth driving the self-interest of these entrepreneurs, and the lure of adventure drawing those explorers will to risk it all to get out there, I suspect in the next few decades we’ll see a sudden burst of energy to go to space. And the good news: it won’t be on the taxpayer dime, which should bolster public support for the men and women to try for the stars.
UPDATE: BoingBoing has news that the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared SpaceShip Two — the craft Virgin Galactic intends to use for space tourism — for test flights.