Monday, September 29, 2008

Two space milestones

For my fellow space geeks, we've had two noteworthy events in the last few days.

First, the Chinese space program had its first spacewalk. This happened on their program's third manned flight. True, the US and the Soviet Union each beat them by forty-five years or so, but third place isn't bad. Apparently their plan is next to construct a small space station, and then proceed with their lunar program. Although I hate to sound like I'm advocating some kind of return to the old space race, I hope that it gives some impetus to the US for its own lunar return program. (One of my few serious disagreements with Barack Obama is that he wants to put NASA's Constellation program on hold. Although I am not entirely convinced Constellation was the correct way to go, the idea of the US being entirely without a manned launch capability when the shuttle stops flying in a few more years is very unsettling to me, particularly when our relations with Russia seem uncertain. I'm hoping that Congress will override Obama on this, if he doesn't change his mind.)

If NASA is falling behind, however, the private sector is working to catch up. A company called SpaceX managed on its fourth launch to put its Falcon 1 spacecraft into orbit, becoming the first entirely private entity to do so. (Very nice video at that link, too.) We're still some years from private companies regularly and routinely putting payloads, let alone people, into orbit -- but it no longer seems out of reach. The question, of course, is whether they can make a profit at it.

I think they can, but proving it may take a while. Meanwhile, three cheers!

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