SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday, March 2, 2019. The capsule docked with the International Space Station this morning. The Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on the 'Of Course I Still Love You" drone-ship following the launch. The mission was "intended to demonstrate SpaceX’s capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program" (SpaceX Crew Demo-1 Mission Overview).
The success of this mission marks a major milestone in modern day space exploration. SpaceX has now proven that they are prepared and equipped to send humans to space. This signifies that SpaceX can now continue to move closer towards launching humans into space, for the first time from a rocket, since the last Space Shuttle launch.
This milestone comes along with the success of another private space company, Virgin Galactic, who became the first private company to send humans to space (however this is a topic of debate that will be talked about later) from the United States, late last year. Virgin Galactic's current goal is space tourism, while SpaceX's is human space exploration.
In fact, Virgin Galactic has done it twice. The first mission, which occurred on December 13, 2019 featured two pilots. The second, which occurred on February 22, 2019 had 3 passengers, including 2 pilots and a passenger/cabin specialist, who will train future fliers. All passengers of both flights received their astronaut wings. Virgin Galactic founder, Richard Branson, plans to fly his first flight on July 16, 2019. Both missions flew into space as defined by the US Air Force, however, neither have passed limit defined by the International Astronautical Federation. There is some debate as to whether this should be defined as a space flight. Regardless, the flight is still monumentous, and the Unity will continue to fly farther to reach what is unanimously defined as outer space.
Virgin Galactic, like SpaceX, uses a special method to make space travel efficient and relatively inexpensive. Virgin Galactic flies it's rocket plane, VSS Unity, to an altitude of , attached to a larger plane. Once it reaches this altitude, the spaceship separates from its host vehicle, ignites it engine, and begins it's gradual assent to space. After reaching space and completing the mission, Unity glides and lands like a plane, similar to the Space Shuttle. All of these money saving tactics makes space travel more convenient and accessible to the public.
We are seeing a significant shift towards human space travel through private companies rather than the government. This shift had been noticeable in the past, however all of these companies and projects were in their infancy. There had been great doubt surrounding the success (and even the possibility) a private companies. These recent achievements are beginning to change the attitude towards these companies.
What do you think about the latest achievements in space exploration by private companies? Feel free to share your thoughts below!