The idea of a man-made satellite was conceived first by a science fiction writer. Space travel was often depicted as a private activity in that genre, with sci-fi master Robert Heinlein, especially, imagining private launches of rockets as well as private travel from Earth to Moon, and beyond.
But for fifty years, governments have directed — and still direct — money, technology and manpower to develop outposts in space. The current International Space Station is a multi-government project. The rockets that lift payloads of Earth’s surface and into orbit, allowing the station to continue to operate, have all been state-run efforts.
Last week, a private company launched a rocket into orbit, and this weekend its unmanned cargo ship, named Dragon, was caught by a robotic arm and dragged in to dock with the space station.
“Looks like we got us a Dragon by the tail,” came the words from out there.
Since mothballing the Shuttle program, NASA has been hiring Russian rockets to launch American payloads, thus meeting American “obligations” to the international effort. Now, with this first successful private launch to a space station, NASA will be able to rely on more local technology and expertise.
By contracting with private firms like SpaceX — the enterprise that launched Dragon — NASA hopes to save money. Its current contract with SpaceX amounts about $1.6 billion.
We can argue about the necessity of developing “outer space,” I know. But if contracting out with private enterprise can save money over government-run efforts, and at the same time encourage the old science fiction dream of private business in space, that seems like progress.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.