Science

Cheering the SpaceX Triumph

Saturday's successful public-private partnership opens new horizons in space.

Nate Jackson · Jun. 1, 2020

By all rights, the weekend’s biggest news should have been the inspiring triumph of the America spirit represented by Saturday’s successful SpaceX launch and Sunday’s docking with the International Space Station.

With the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011, America’s return to space was not assured. Since then, our astronauts have been hitching $90 million rides with the Russians — until this past weekend. But SpaceX, a private company begun by Tesla founder Elon Musk, partnered with NASA to change that. Only the governments of the U.S., Russia, and China had launched humans into space. It’s remarkable that a private company now joins that roster.

From American soil, a Falcon 9 rocket launched the Crew Dragon capsule — the first new American human space transport built since 1981 — and carried veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS). (Hurley also took part in the last shuttle flight in 2011.) The SpaceX crew even accomplished the astounding feat of landing the rocket on a “drone ship” in the Atlantic after the Dragon detached. Hurley and Behnken will remain on the ISS for one to four months, when the next Dragon launches.

“We don’t want to declare victory yet,” an emotional Musk demurred. “We need to bring them home safely.” Musk, himself an immigrant from South Africa, also offered these thoughts: “America is still the land of opportunity, more than any other place, for sure. There is definitely no other country where I could have done this — immigrant or not.”

While the newly developing Space Force will no doubt play a key role in securing American interests in space in the years to come, Saturday’s launch was, as flight control in Houston intimated, “a magnificent moment in spaceflight history.” Indeed it was, and watching Americans do what NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine rightly called “extraordinary things” should lift the spirits of all Americans during a tumultuous and rancorous time.

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