Monday, October 9, 2017

Paradise ponders: missions to space...

Paradise ponders: missions to space...  I'm sitting here this morning watching the live webcast of the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, on my laptop in my kitchen (screenshot at right).  Watching this got me to remembering the first such launch I followed: the launch of Vanguard 1, on March 17, 1958.  I didn't see this on television; I listened to it on my crystal radio, the one my dad helped me build.  After that, every chance I got I listened to (on radio), watched (on television), and read (in science related magazines) everything I could, up through the Apollo moon missions.  Much of the detailed information about those missions came from books and magazines published long after the actual launch.

Now fast-forward nearly 60 years, and here I am in my kitchen.  I'm watching a high-fidelity, realtime presentation on the SpaceX launch, on my laptop computer.  It's connected by WiFi to the Internet, which is how the video is being sent to me.  It's in hi-fidelity, full-color, with great audio.  There is realtime video from the launch pad, from the first stage, from the second stage, and from the drone ship where the first stage will attempt to land.

It's a few minutes since I wrote the above paragraph, and now the first stage has successfully landed on the drone ship.  The second stage is in parking orbit, preparing to transition to a higher orbit where the Iridium satellites (ten of them) will be deployed. 

SpaceX is really starting to make satellite launching routine, in a way that NASA was never able to do.  So far this year they've launched 15 rockets to orbit, and recovered the first stage successfully on 8 of those flights (something NASA once declared “impossible”).  For me, the excitement I'm feeling today about SpaceX's efforts is that they provide a promise that commercial exploitation of space might just be possible.  Elon Musk has far grander visions than that, but personally I'd be satisfied with nothing more than igniting commercial exploitation – because then I know for sure that mankind's ventures into space will be better-managed, sustained, and successful...

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