At 10:43 a.m. EDT today SpaceX launched their Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. Ten minutes later it successfully reached orbit where it separated from the Falcon 9 booster, made two revolutions around the globe, then reentered the atmosphere and splashed down on target in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles off the coast of southern California. The flight went exactly as planned.
The last time a space capsule splashed down was December 19, 1972 when Apollo 17, the last of 7 (counting the “successful failure” of Apollo 13) human exploration missions to the lunar surface, returned home. And now, nearly 4 decades later, it’s been done again, but this time there’s a critical difference: the entire transportation system, both the Falcon 9 rocket and the space capsule, were built and flown by a private company.
The Dragon was unmanned for this first demonstration flight of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract let by NASA. Under the current agreement with the agency, SpaceX will use this new system for transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station. But the capsule was designed from the beginning to carry people as well as cargo. The only thing standing in the way of Dragon reaching its full potential in replacing the space shuttle is the exercise of option D of the contract, but their’s been resistance.
There are those in government who stubbornly cling to the notion that NASA should not rely on the private sector for transporting astronauts to the Station or other points in earth orbit, citing a lack of experience. They would rather continue a strategy of government-funded space transportation systems, which has repeatedly proven itself to be prohibitively expensive and vulnerable to changing administrations and ever-shrinking budgets. Of course this is absurd. The private sector has decades of experience in building and launching spacecraft of every conceivable type, and they will continue to do so with the same high standards that have kept them in business, because in business, if you fail, you don’t survive.
So if you’re holding on to a bottle of champagne for a special occasion, this is it. Pop the cork and celebrate today’s successful flight and recovery of the Dragon. We’ve taken a huge step forward on the road to affordable transportation to space and not only for a few but for all of us. The day when the average person can look to space for a career, or even a new place of residence, just got a lot closer thanks to a few people who dared to dream big.
Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – Space industry leaders, astronauts, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation are issuing the following statements following the successful launch, orbital operation, and splashdown of the Dragon capsule, a milestone in commercial spaceflight:
Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation:
“It’s a milestone on the path to realizing the first commercial human spaceflight capability. It’s historic in that it’s the beginning of a paradigm shift from a government human spaceflight architecture to one that opens up human spaceflight to the private sector.”
Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems and Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation:
“On behalf of all the members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation I would like to send our congratulations to Elon, Gwynne Shotwell and everyone working at SpaceX. The spaceflight community has received a historic piece of great news today. Years of hard work, resources and risk went into this flight and have led to this terrific achievement that stands as a door-opener for a new era in space.”
Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida:
“This flight marks another giant leap forward on the path of commercial spaceflight. Florida’s aerospace workforce can take special pride that SpaceX’s launch happened right here at the Space Coast. This success means more jobs for Florida and Floridians, and promises a vibrant commercial space capability for the nation. Florida is proud to host SpaceX for launch operations, and we look forward to many more flights of the Falcon and Dragon spacecraft as SpaceX and other commercial companies continue to create new jobs for Florida’s aerospace workforce.”
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation:
“In NASA’s new plans for space exploration a new player has taken center stage – American capitalism and entrepreneurship – and today’s SpaceX success strengthens my hope that entrepreneurial commercial space companies will at long last remove the cost barrier that slows our exploration of the solar system.”
Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures:
“What a tremendous accomplishment for SpaceX to succeed on the first Dragon spacecraft launch attempt. We see a bright future for the commercial spaceflight industry and today was another advancement.”
Byron Lichtenberg, former Space Shuttle astronaut:
“I expect that there will be a lot more astronauts in the future because of today’s success with Dragon. Lower cost launches means more flights, which means more astronauts. We’ve only had 500 astronauts in the history of the Space Age, but I hope to see thousands more in the decades to come thanks to new spacecraft like Dragon.”
Dr. Alan Stern, former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and now Associate Vice President at the Southwest Research Institute:
“Congratulations to SpaceX on this historic achievement and giant leap forward! Falcon 9, Dragon, and similar commercial rockets and spacecraft will open up commercial spaceflight in new ways, and make NASA’s Space Station program far stronger. They’ll also someday hopefully reduce or eliminate the need to depend on Russian launchers to get NASA astronauts to and from the Station, and that’s extremely important.”
Mike Lounge, former Space Shuttle astronaut:
“This is an exciting tipping point for commercial space. It goes a long way to validate a legitimate role for private enterprise in space exploration. Congratulations to SpaceX for their successful mission!”
About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation
The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s member companies, which include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, spaceports, suppliers, and service providers, are creating thousands of high-tech jobs nationwide, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation, and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202.349.1121.