Monday, April 11, 2011

SpaceX Keeps the Dream Alive

Tuesday, April 12, marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight: the fully automated, 108-minute orbital flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

There was a time, indeed, when I was young and naive. Regardless of what you may think, yes, 'tis true. When Apollo 11 landed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, I assumed that this was just the beginning: science fiction had become reality. Satellites were one thing, but people on the moon? How cool was that! I imagined that more missions to the moon would be scheduled, eventually leading to the construction of a moon base. And with the moon base as a launch platform, the next target would be Mars. On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, I actually believed that within 25 or 30 years -- definitely by the turn of the century -- we would have astronauts landing on Mars.

Unfortunately, few of those imaginings have come to pass. A handful of additional moon landings later, and then, between budget cuts and politics, the US chose to go no farther in space. The Space Shuttle program, along with the International Space Station, provided some possibilities for further space exploration, but my imagination had already been crushed. And now, only two shuttle flights remain until yet another US space program becomes enshrined in the National Air and Space Museum.

That is, until SpaceX unveiled the Heavy Falcon launch vehicle during a press conference on April 5, 2011: "Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket, represents SpaceX's entry into the heavy lift launch vehicle category. With the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb) to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Falcon Heavy can lift nearly twice the payload of the next closest vehicle, the US Space Shuttle, and more than twice the payload of the Delta IV Heavy."

If you are intrigued by the possibilities of space flight, and you have a spare 1 minute and 24 seconds, please watch the SpaceX Heavy Falcon animated video that I've embedded below:

According to the press release, "the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power." And that is a lot of power. The Falcon Heavy is certainly no Saturn V -- the launch vehicle for the Apollo project -- but it will do the necessary job of getting spacecraft to low earth orbit. And from there? We can only dream again.

I don't know if, in my lifetime, I'll ever see a manned space mission go beyond the moon, but I can hope the dream stays alive for future generations.

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