SpaceX: Aiming for Mars
The “new Space Age” has begun, said Gene Seymour in CNN.com. SpaceX, the private company owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, last week successfully launched a Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral as a first step toward an eventual Mars mission. The Falcon Heavy can carry 140,000 pounds—more than any other rocket operating today. Its first payload? A cherry red sports car manufactured by Musk’s other multibillion-dollar company, Tesla. Sitting behind the wheel of the 2008 Roadster was a spacesuit-clad mannequin, dubbed “Starman”; on the stereo, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The choice of cargo reflects Musk’s “marketing genius,” said Matthew Continetti in NationalReview.com, but this launch was much more than a stunt. In this new era, risk-taking buccaneers like Musk may seize space exploration away from slow-moving, underfunded NASA. The president of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, captured the excitement of all space enthusiasts when he said: “Mars is now within reach.”
What sets SpaceX apart is “reusability,” said Mark Whittington in TheHill.com. Because the company’s boosters are designed to return to Earth, they can be used over and over again. This sharply reduces costs—SpaceX charges just $90 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about a quarter of its nearest rival’s lowest price. Musk is already focusing on developing even bigger rockets, with the aim of sending people back to the moon, and then to Mars, said Kenneth Chang in The New York Times. SpaceX’s “next-generation rocket,” a massive beast capable of carrying 150 metric tons, is the next step in that process. The BFR (“the B stands for big, the R for rocket”) may be ready to launch by 2022.
Musk isn’t the only one aiming high, said Marcelo Gleiser in NPR.org. Blue Origin, a firm run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is “developing its own heavy lifter,” while NASA is working on a system “dedicated to deep space exploration, including crewed flights to Mars.” Three cheers to them all, said David French in NationalReview.com. After the first space race died down, America’s aspirations for exploration diminished. “Our eyes weren’t cast up to the heavens but down to our phones.” But “great nations need great accomplishments,” not just new consumer products. Thanks to this new, private sector–driven space race, we can once again dream of flying “higher, faster, and farther” than ever before. ■