SpaceX First Crewed Mission: A Prelude to Mars Mission

Space Travel

 NASA astronauts aboard the crew Dragon Capsule (SpaceX via Twitter)

At 3:22 p.m EST, The SpaceX launched its first crewed mission to the International Space Station(ISS). The Crew Dragon Capsule lifted by the Falcon Rocket carried two NASA astronauts on their way to their destination.  Though we have already launched hundreds of astronauts in the space after the Soviet Union first put Yuri Gagarin into the orbit in 1961, today’s launch alludes to a greater objective. It marks the beginning of a new Space era, to turn Interplanetary Travel into a reality.

 

  An artist conception of the Moon landing.

During the 1960s, rivalry between the US and the USSR expedited the developments in the space exploration industries. When the first humans landed on the Moon, millions glued to their television set in 1969. After the humans reached the Moon, Mars begin to dominate our fiction and fantasies. A mission to Mars seemed an immediate possibility. In fact number of plans were drawn up and even tests conducted to develop capabilities of a crewed Mars mission but it never materialized .The USSR felt left far behind the US in the space race and by 1972 the public gradually lost interest in the Apollo missions. So, the US policy makers saw little reasons to invest more in further research and development of a space program which would carry humans far beyond the low earth orbit. Though NASA has now its Space Launch System (SLS) being developed for the deep space exploration, it is unlikely that the SLS would cruise to Mars in any immediate future.

However, the space industry now is a different arena. With today’s launch, SpaceX has become the first private company ever to carry humans into the earth’s orbit. The ambitions of SpaceX are not only limited to a manned mission to the ISS. The company’s founder, Elon Musk has put forward his goals to land humans on the Moon which would soon be followed by a crewed mission to Mars. Musk’s audacious plan will be executed by the monstrous “Starship” currently in the final development phase. The key features of this venture would be the rapid re-usability of the rockets which would ultimately bring down the cost of the launches by a huge margin. The SpaceX not only envisions to land humans on the Martian surface but also to colonize it and to colonize Mars, SpaceX would need scores of missions to the Red Planet. Therefore, the rapid re-usability would be indispensable. Even with all these plans and developments on its way, SpaceX needs to self-assure of its own capability for a manned flight and strengthen its convictions. This is where the today’s launch has heavily contributed.

 Upper Half of the Starship without its booster rockets. (SpaceX twitter)

By the time the capsule docks with the ISS, astronauts would have tested the Crew Dragon’s flight systems. This would be a huge morale booster for the SpaceX team. As the confidence grows, the “Starship” program will gain more momentum. The “Starship” will have a capacity to carry 100 crew members which would be a lot higher than the capability of any spacecraft ever put into use. To keep up with a program of this scale, it requires grants as well as the company has to have its own revenue sources and by ferrying NASA astronauts to and fro from the ISS, it has secured a way to generate a huge and continuous revenue.  This would ultimately contribute to the SpaceX’s human exploration to the Mars.

Now, as the SpaceX mounts success over success, the public mood is swaying in favor of deep space exploration. Subsequently, there has been some budget increase for the NASA which points towards a brighter future. As a matter of fact, today’s launch was widely viewed all over the social media platforms and despite the threat of Coronavirus, there was unusually high number of spectators at the Kennedy Space Center. This shows that the idea of a Mars mission is gaining a traction and will ultimately turn the policy makers to vehemently support the future ventures.

Today’s launch also marks the first time NASA launched their astronauts from the American soil after abandoning of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Since, 2011 NASA relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecrafts for their mission to the ISS. With today’s launch US is also demonstrating its own homegrown capabilities. This is bound to increase the rivalry between Russia and the US and will help accelerate the space programs at both ends. Therefore, though highly unlikely, we shouldn’t be surprised if Russia announces an Interplanetary mission of their own in the near future.

An artist conception of landing on an extraterrestrial Planet

When we forsake an idea, we not only deprive ourselves but also our posterity from the benefit of the idea had it been pursued. Had the ideas of a mission to Mars been pursued during the 70s without any interruptions, the current generation might have been working on the exploration of the edges of the Solar System with plans drawn from the desks in Martian colonies. We have to learn from our past and let the future be made to realize our dreams. SpaceX has awakened us to some degree and let us not fall back to sleep again. Let us be awake so that we can see someone broadcasting live from the Red Planet very soon.

 

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Surya Kiran Yadav

I write on Physics, Space Travel and military technologies
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Last modified: May 31, 2020

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