why the crewed dragon launch can make our sci-fi dreams come true
It’s difficult to express how bizarre it was to see a nation both erupt in protests against racism and police brutality and send two humans into orbit using a spaceship built with technology half a century ahead of what was considered state of the art in space exploration when the space shuttles were retired on he same day. But that’s exactly what happened, and while it may seem odd to talk about it right now, we really should. On the surface, it seemed like the launch of a capsule with a pair of astronauts lucky to get a break from this crazy planet, but how and why it happened may signal a new and very different future for the world and its economies.
They were not shot upwards on a billion-dollar behemoth developed by NASA and countless layers of middlemen, designed to be tossed away after every launch. Instead, the Dragon is a reusable capsule driven by a mostly reusable rocket, operated by a private company that had to fight and prove its abilities to make this flight possible. It had the benefit of using modern computers and materials, and the astronauts working with its hardware describe it as a sci-fi machine compared to shuttles and Soyuz capsules. In a way, the Dragon’s crewed launch was the firing of a starter pistol for commercial space exploration on a vast scale.
You see, it’s not that SpaceX’s technology is literally science fiction brought to life, it’s that it’s the first to actually tackle the problem of putting humans and cargo into space with reusable rockets to greatly lower launch and operation costs. None of the technology it uses it out of reach for its competitors, and if anything, they’re just taking ambitious designs from NASA’s golden days and asking how they can make them cost effective with modern manufacturing and computers. The result are rockets like the Falcon and craft like the Dragon, and prototypes like the BFR, B330, and Olympus BA 2100.
The currently successful demonstration flight proves that these aren’t just pipe dreams, but real technology we can run with, develop, and use to create a new age of space travel in which we can once again be explorers and innovators instead of drowning in busywork we hate to the point of driving ourselves into clinical depression. When the mission returns, it will also signal that human spaceflight is no longer the exclusive domain of superpowers, or even nations for that matter, but that space programs can be assembled from off the shelf components thanks to a growing number of aerospace companies.
Just imagine how many jobs and opportunities can be created when businesses can pack an inflatable space habitat bigger and much more luxurious than the International Space Station into a massive rocket, launch and deploy it in one mission, then use it as a hotel or research station in orbit, or on the surfaces of other worlds in our solar system. Opportunities and ideas which once seemed as if they’d cost trillions of dollars and take decades suddenly come with price tags well under a billion and a timetable of a few years, perfect for governments and private industry to take advantage and establish new markets, industries, and occupations.
Of course, we still have to play our cards right, commit to space exploration, and actually use this technology — which is easier now that it keeps demonstrating how quickly it’s moving forward. And while it would be ridiculous to say that it will solve all out social and geopolitical ills to start exploring off world and bring revolutionary new energy sources and habitats back to Earth to revamp our energy grids, living arrangements, and healthcare, it could relieve some of the pressures, uncertainty, and frustration that drives so much of today’s political turmoil. We can give millions of people looking for a way out of political gridlock and runaway automation a new hope to do something truly profound. What excuse could we have not to do it?