I watched in awe as SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, put a Tesla Roadster into an orbit that will see it visit Mars and then to cap it all recover two of the rocket assemblies in a perfectly synchronised landing. After all that, the SpaceX team would be quite justified in thinking they had had a pretty good day – it was amazing!
All this technology has very practical uses today in terms of resupplying the International Space Station and launching satellites, but that would appear only to be a means to an end – a way to fund the much bigger dream of turning humans into a multi-planetary species and to become a truly spacefaring civilisation.
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
— ELON MUSK, CEO AND LEAD DESIGNER, SPACEX
And I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. If you read science fiction you’ll know that this idea was a done deal years ago – we will become a spacefaring civilisation – C J Cherryh outlined one vision as to how this will come about in “Earth and Outward: 2005-2352” at the start of Downbelow Station. So what is the big deal? Well the difference is how some people, like NASA, the Russians and Elon Musk have the ability (and resources) to connect the vision to its physical implementation. They take that vision and through hard work, skill and shear bloody minded perseverance, step by step, make it real. It’s fantastic and inspirational. I have great ideas all the time and most of them evaporate by the time I get to kitchen and am told that somebody needs to do the washing up. Thank the Maker that there are organisations who get beyond those kind of problems.
People say we should fix the world’s problems before we start spending a fortune on space travel. In an ideal world we would have already done it. But our political structures don’t give us the mechanisms to solve these problems. If an African dictatorship is siphoning off the wealth of a country and letting it’s people starve, who are the “they” who can stop them? If a poor Asian country decides to ethnically cleanse one of its provinces again who is the “they” to call them out? There is no magic “fix it” squad that can charge in to solve these problems. The best we can do is to support and strengthen the institutions we have and be relentless in our fight against corruption at every level. In the meantime though we shouldn’t stop the rocket men and women building their dreams.
Now I’ve only got two gripes about this whole endeavour:
- We’re still using chemical propellants. Where’s the Gravity Plate? We came up with that idea decades ago. Granted the implementation may be a little problematic, but seriously get on to it guys!
- I would have preferred that the car SpaceX sent into space was better looking – something like a Jaguar XK8. I’m not going to labour the point though – given that it was Elon’s Roadster built by his own company you could say that’s fair enough.
The one thing I do know is that I’m probably too old now to make the trip to Mars. By the time it’s all up and running I’m sure I will have shuffled off this mortal coil. It would have been fun though to watch the Sun set over a Martian mountain range whilst sipping on a Gin and Tonic. What there will be time for however, is to watch the next Hollywood Sci-Fi blockbuster where the ship has to rendezvous with the Tesla Roadster and use its still functioning battery to save the life support system.