SpaceX’s space tourism flight marks a new beginning - GulfToday

SpaceX’s space tourism flight marks a new beginning


The photo has been used for illustrative purpose.

It was a short but significant step from private space flights of Virgin Galactic of Richard Branson and Blue Origin of Jeff Bezos, where the self-made billionaires blasted into outer space for a few minutes and came back safe. It reminded one of the beginnings of the space ventures of Cold War rivals, the United States, and the Soviet Union (Russia) in the late 1950s, starting with Sputnik in 1957, the first manned flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1960, which culminated in Neil Armstrong taking that one small step on the moon which was a giant step for mankind in 1969.

But last week, Tesla’s Elon Musk has taken the space story a step further when his SpaceX company launched a private commercial flight where four civilians booked their flight for what the news agencies have coyly reported as “for a small fortune”, which is to be translated in this instance to a reported US$200 million. Jared Isaacman, 38, owner of financial services firm Shift4 Payments Inc., booked a ticket for himself and three others, all civilians and christened Inspiration4, on Capsule Dragon, dubbed Resilience, for a three-day orbit of the earth, way above the International Space Station (ISS) and the Hubble Space Telescope.

They took off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday evening and splashed back into the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida on Saturday. Isaacman had undertaken the flight to raise awareness and funds for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a paediatric cancer centre in Memphis, Tennessee. National Administration of Space Agency (Nasa) had succinctly summed up the space ride of Inspiration4. It said in a tweet: “Inspiration4 embodies our vision for a future in which private companies can transport cargo and people to low-Earth orbit. More opportunities to fly more opportunities for science.”

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur, and billionaire who is keen on breaching fresh frontiers that would at the same time commercial sense and rake in revenues and profits had already made his mark and made his billions with Tesla, the maker of the electricity-driven automobile, is now seen as the next-generation car and commercially feasible as well.

He had seen that there was need for a breakthrough in the century-old automobile industry. The EV may not fully replace the gasoline-driven cars of our times, but it has as it were diversified choice. He has extended the principle to space flights. He is of course not the first to think of a private venture in space. Branson and Bezos, the romantic mavericks, were a little ahead of him. Bezos is more serious than Branson of wanting to exploit the economic potential of space. He is competing with Musk in launching Internet satellites, though Musk is beating him to it.

Space is then the new economic frontier, and the field is sure to expand beyond Musk and Bezos and Branson. But the gestation period might be longer and there would not be too many players because of the huge capital inputs needed for it. The entry of the private players into the space field also raises the interesting question that the initial steps were taken by the government, especially the military. Of course, given the nature of the American economy, the Nasa contracts went out to private players, but technological and scientific research at the universities and the research laboratories were funded by the government.

In America’s capitalist, free market economy, the American state was the chief sponsor of the space programme. In the former Soviet Union, it was entirely a state-controlled system. The private players in America can now step into the space sector because the ground has already been laid by Nasa and its military connection. Remember that all the astronauts came from the US Air Force.

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