from the world's big
SpaceX's momentous Crew Dragon launch is a sign of things to come for the space industry, and humanity's future.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
- Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
- Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
The humblest of beginnings<p>SpaceX was an inside joke for many in the space industry establishment even years after its founding. Its first three launches famously and spectacularly failed, leading to not only snickers among the industry elite, but stressing SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, down to literally their last dollar. <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/29/elon-musk-9-years-ago-spacex-nearly-failed-itself-out-of-existence.html" target="_blank">As Musk has related several times</a>, SpaceX's fourth launch was a "make or break." Had it failed, the company would have filed for bankruptcy. Thankfully, that launch was successful and SpaceX has really never looked back. The industry insiders who doubt SpaceX still exist, but their snickers have turned to more nuanced criticism, including that SpaceX unfairly benefits from government contracting. Which is ironic for an industry that has been built on a defense contracting model. The truth is, SpaceX has made space cool again. One only needs to compare its rocket launch telecasts with those of their competitors. One has Hollywood-level production quality and attracts over <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/6/16981730/spacex-falcon-heavy-launch-youtube-live-stream-record" target="_blank">1 million live viewers per launch</a> and the others seem dated, uninspired and draw 25,000 viewers on their best day. This has led to SpaceX being one of the employers of choice in the space industry, despite its legendary long hours and difficult working environment. Attracting top talent has been one of the reasons SpaceX has been able to achieve its miraculous product success.</p>
A big bet<p>Once SpaceX learned to launch rockets, Musk's product vision became more futuristic. Just like it doesn't make sense to fly a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380" target="_blank">$400M</a> Airbus 380 from Dubai to Los Angeles only to throw the airplane away after landing, Musk challenged the industry to reuse its rocket boosters. This vision was <a href="https://blog.spexcast.com/spacex-develop-resuable-rockets/" target="_blank">audacious</a> and was faced with massive skepticism in the industry. Despite this, SpaceX stuck its first landing of a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEr9cPpuAx8" target="_blank">single rocket booster</a> on April 8, 2016. Stuck its first <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3dvELj9kkU" target="_blank">dual rocket booster</a> landing on February 6, 2018 and even stuck a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVqWEoyiaBA" target="_blank">triple landing</a> on April 12, 2019. It has now landed 49 out of its last 51 attempts. This has literally changed the game in terms of both launch costs, but also cycle time (the amount of time needed between launches). It is a game changer that will be further stretched when the potentially revolutionary heavy rocket <a href="https://www.spacex.com/vehicles/starship/" target="_blank">Starship</a> is rolled out sometime in the next year. In addition to the boosters, SpaceX also recovers other parts from the launch including the fairing, which houses the actual payload of the launch.</p>
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside Crew Dragon.
Criticism and triumph<p>Elon Musk has his critics, and certainly he has his lieutenants who do not get enough credit for their impact on SpaceX's achievements, such a SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, but, regardless, it is indisputable that SpaceX has achieved a level of capability that is truly shocking in a relativity short period of time. Should SpaceX be celebrated for its persistence, entrepreneurism, innovation and ultimate value creation? Without question. Is SpaceX finished pushing boundaries and achieving what others thought was impossible? Not even close. If Musk stays healthy and avoids a Howard Hughes moment, as many fear, it is hard to doubt his ability to make his dream of landing humans on Mars a reality within his next 18 years (if not sooner).</p>
The Crew Dragon demonstration of the launch escape system.
According to a man that knows more than 20 languages, the key is to start in the middle.
- Canadian polyglot Steve Kaufmann says there is indeed a fast track to learning a new language. It involves doubling down on your listening and reading.
- By taking the focus off grammar rules that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remember, you can instead develop habits by greater exposure to the language. Kaufmann likens the learning process to a hockey stick.
- In the beginning you make major progress as you climb the steep hill of the hockey stick, whereas the long shaft of the stick is the difficult part. Because you're not seeing day-to-day changes, you might lose motivation. So, stay the course by consuming content that interests you.
The institutional barriers that have often held creative teaching back are being knocked down by the coronavirus era.
- Long-held structures in the education system, like classroom confines and schedules, have held back innovation for a long time, says education leader Richard Culatta.
- In the coronavirus era, we have been able to shake some of those rigid structures loose, making way for creativity and, ultimately, a more open mindset.
- When creativity and technology combine, learning can become so much more than delivering content to a student. Culatta gives two stunning examples: one of a biotech class, and another involving a student discovering a star.
- NASA proposes an updated treaty for peaceful cooperation in space.
- The Artemis Accords aim to address potential off-planet conflicts before they happen, modernizing previous agreements.
- The proposal was prompted by the U.S. effort to return to the Moon, India's attempts to establish a presence there, and China's current Chang'e-4 mission.
We've really just taken baby steps into space, and already our off-planet activity is making it look a bit like the Wild West up there. It's not just government-sponsored science orbiting the planet, but also craft launched by private space entrepreneurs looking to score major paydays by being the first ones in. Look up at the right time of the evening to see a glittering wagon train of Starlink satellites traversing the night skies just because Elon Musk says so. Competition is already heating up between nations and industries for presumed space resources.
NASA hopes this isn't how it has to be, or how it will be, if governments and industry just hit the pause button long enough to think things through. In a bid to get a sensible conversation started, the U.S. space agency has just proposed a comprehensive treaty for Earthlings in space: The Artemis Accords. It is designed as an expansion and supplement to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
How far the Accords get depends on the wisdom of its proposed signatories, of course. Humanity — Remember us? Big fans of greed, competition, and self-destructive behavior? — has a not-great track record when it comes to doing the smart thing, but the Artemis Accords are a good start.
The Artemis Accords
NASA describes the Accords as "Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future." The anticipated American return to the moon by 2024 serves as the reason to begin addressing the peaceful use of space at this moment. China's Chang'e-4 mission is there now, and India plans another attempt at a lunar landing of its Chandrayaan-3 mission.
The idea is for Artemis to be the foundation of a voluntary partnership between relevant entities in establishing a "sustainable and robust" presence on the Moon, and reducing human conflict in space going forward.
"With numerous countries and private sector players conducting missions and operations in cislunar space, it's critical to establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space. International space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy."
The Artemis Accords are divided into 10 sections:
Image source: NASA
NASA considers the core of the Artemis program to be adherence to the principles laid out in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that commits signatories to the use of space for peaceful purposes and to foster cooperation.
The earlier document doesn't allow signing nations to:
- Place in orbit around the Earth or other celestial bodies any nuclear weapons or objects carrying WMD.
- Install WMD on celestial bodies or station WMD in outer space in any other manner.
- Establish military bases or installations, test "any type of weapons," or conduct military exercises on the moon and other celestial bodies.
Image source: Gregg Newton/Getty Images
Artemis requires partners to be open about their policies, plans, and activities in space.
On Earth, we can't even agree of screwheads. Seen here: slot screwhead, Philips screwhead, Robertson screwhead, hexagonal screwhead
Image source: Big Think
NASA is calling in Artemis for the development of open international standards that would allow interoperability between partners' hardware. Common standards allow for an easier exchange of data between devices, simpler connectivity and repair, and reduces the need for each partner to devise its own method of achieving shared tasks.
Image source: OgnjenO/Shutterstock/Big Think
Artemis builds upon the 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Partners must commit to making every reasonable effort to aid astronauts in distress.
Registration of Space Objects
In order to keep everyones' craft out of each others' way, and to help ensure the safety of everyone and everything up there, Artemis requires signers to register their space objects. The U.N estimates that about 87 percent of space objects are currently registered.
Release of Scientific Data
Image source: NASA
Artemis requires signatories to openly share their scientific findings for the benefit of humanity as a whole. NASA already does this.
Image source: NASA
As off-planet historical sites add up — the U.S. moon landing site is one — Artemis partners agree to protect such locations for their shared historical value.
Image source: M-SUR/Shutterstock
This requirement may turn out to be contentious given the potentially profits involved: An agreement to share access to resources in accordance with Articles II, VI, and XI of the Outer Space Treaty.
Deconfliction of Activities
Image source: AleksandrMorrisovich/Shutterstock/Big Think
Artemis partners must agree to afford other nations "due regard," and participate in notification and coordination with other parities to avoid harmful interference with each others' activities.
Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal
Artemis partners agree to collectively plan for the reentry of orbital debris and to develop safe systems for the disposal of craft no longer in service.
You can download a [copy of the Artemis Accords here].
- Astronaut Garrett Reisman took in countless indescribably beautiful views while he lived in space. But most shocking, he says, was observing the thinness of Earth's atmosphere.
- You can compare the thickness of the atmosphere to the diameter of Earth to the skin on an apple, or the shell of an egg. It's incredibly thin and shows just how seemingly fragile our planet is.
- But to put this into perspective, whereas the atmosphere reaches a height of 300,000 feet from Earth's surface, the deepest part of the ocean only reaches 35,000 feet, ten times thinner than Earth's atmosphere. Everything we experience on Earth, from sea to sky, exists on just a tiny slice of precious surface coating.