SpaceX has been making great strides in proving its launch capabilities and competing for acceptance from NASA to carry astronauts back into space on an American rocket.
But in the neck-and-neck competition to have a private enterprise spacecraft crew rated, it struck me that SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was lagging behind Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser when it came to the coolness factor. But that changed on May 29 when SpaceX’s CEO unveiled Dragon V2 that would land the way science fiction traditionally portrayed spacecraft landing, on its tail, rockets blazing, for a soft landing.
“That is how a 21st century spaceship should land,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told the cheering crowd at the unveiling as an animation showed the Dragon V2 completing its powered landing.
Now I’m guessing NASA isn’t going to decide to support a spacecraft primarily on the craft’s coolness factor. It would seem a good chance that at least two of the three companies will win a NASA seal of approval. And while Space X and Sierra Nevada have made headlines, no one can discount Boeing’s years of experience of launching craft into space as a key reason for it’s capsule design to win approval.
But SpaceX, which since its beginning had been concentrating on simply launching into Earth’s orbit, very quickly showed in early June that Dragon V2 need not be limited to staying close to the home planet. The same landing rockets and design which would allow the spacecraft to land would also allow it to land on Mars.
The game is on. There is still much work that SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing must do before anyone rides their spacecraft into space, let alone to Mars. Yet it does look that America’s space industry and particularly its capability to send people into space is heading toward a resurgence. SpaceX’s design for launching a multipurpose spacecraft not limited to Earth orbit, much as NASA’s Orion also under development, may open up a new chapter of exploration, finally, in the coming years.