SpaceX: Giving Me Hope for America’s Future

Maybe America can be great again.

At the risk of getting a barrage of hateful comments from people in perpetual denial about the general dumbing down of America, I need to post this.

This morning, I watched the 45-minute webcast of SpaceX’s recent history-making launch. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:

Or better yet, do what I did: load up the YouTube channel on a Roku and watch it on a big screen TV.

There are a few things that struck me about this presentation.

  • Youth. The very first thing that stuck me is the age of the folks who were part of this event. Young people in public relations and engineering positions. Young people everywhere. This wasn’t a dreary circa 1970 NASA launch reel with too many guys in too many white shirts and ties. This was today’s youth in jeans and T-shirts and hoodies. Talking the way we all talk, using words we all understand about an amazing scientific achievement. No, not every young American is spoiled, entitled, and/or unable to think of anything beyond fashion or music or video games. Some of them are today’s rocket scientists.
  • Scientific achievement. I think we’ve become so accustomed to seeing amazing thing in movies and on television that we don’t realize how much of it is fake. So when a company like SpaceX can send a rocket booster into space and then land it successfully in an upright and vertical position on a landing pad only 282 feet in diameter, we don’t understand what a truly amazing achievement that is.
  • Media Presentation. SpaceX apparently did a live webcast of this launch. You didn’t have to tune into a television channel or have cable news access or watch countless advertisements squeezed in to maximize broadcaster revenue. You saw a series of SpaceX staff members telling you what was going on, with an informative timeline and video feeds to show what was coming up and what was actually happening. This was available all over the world — and it still is, for free, on YouTube. Heck, I was even able to embed it here to save readers the bother of searching for it online. The only excuse for not seeing this is apathy.

Rocket Booster
Do you have any idea what an achievement this is?

As I watched the video and saw actual footage from space of the first booster separating from the main rocket, I had tears in my eyes. And more tears when I saw that first booster standing upright on an old Florida launch pad, still smoking from the engine that had enabled it to softly touch down on four landing legs less than ten minutes after being in space. Then, when the chant that I was thinking of started up from the spectators: “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” It made me feel really proud to be an American for the first time in a very long time.

When I was a kid, my mother made me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong step out of a metal capsule and walk on the moon. She said I’d be witnessing history and, at 7 years old, I really didn’t care all that much. But I watched it and I remember it and nearly 46 years later, I’m glad I did.

This morning, sitting on my sofa, I watched something almost equally amazing — but have heard only the briefest mention of it on the radio and television. Ho hum. I guess a real achievement by man can’t compete with the box office stats for the latest Star Wars movie.

Making America great again has nothing to do with immigration and war and terrorists and religion. It has everything to do with what made America great in the first place: courage, innovation, the embracing of science and technology, and the willingness to work hard to achieve great things.

When my fellow Americans can put aside their anger and hate and the other things that divide them, when they can stop denying the findings of science, when they can see that moving forward is far more important for the future than dwelling upon real or imagined slights in the past, when they can see that the differences among their fellow men can help them grow and learn and see the world in new and exciting ways — well, then America will start to be great again. Until then, spectators like me, on the downhill slope of life, will have to be satisfied with observing pockets of greatness offered by innovative American companies like SpaceX.

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17 thoughts on “SpaceX: Giving Me Hope for America’s Future

  1. Remarkable guidance feat, certainly. But why is this more impressive than the Shuttle program?
    That had reuseable stages too. Even the SRB’s were recoverable. The big fuel tank was lost.
    Sure, the latest Falcon launched 11 satellites and the Shuttle did fewer each trip, but in those days satellites were larger and heavier.
    The cheerleaders are now in blue polo shirts and have beards, whereas they used to have short-sleeved white shirts and many more had glasses. But they were all scientists who knew their stuff.
    So far, Falcon stats are are worse than Shuttle stats.
    Falcon has ‘anomalies’ while Shuttle sometimes had fatalities. But all involved fully knew the risks.
    Space will always be dangerous and expensive if you need to accelerate several tons of payload to 17,000 mph to be there.
    Ariane has been launching stelllites for decades without fanfare. Soyuz still commutes to the space station and back several times each year.
    Falcon is privately funded. Is that the key difference?

    • The big difference to me is that Falcon came back to a landing pad. The shuttle SRBs just splashed into the ocean. The big unknown will be the amount of refurbishment that Falcon will need. Shuttle boosters needed the equivalent of a complete tear-down, if I recall correctly.

      • I agree that refurbishment costs we be critical and I am guessing that the Falcon engines we get something very much like a ‘tear-down’ each trip, too.
        The major innovation seems to be the use of super-chilled (thus very dense) oxygen rapidly filled immediately before launch.

    • The space shuttle was a remarkable achievement at the time. But it really was sort of a plane. And the shuttle itself was the only thing that landed. This landing was amazing. Did you watch it?

  2. We need to colonize the cosmos not only for some curiosity argument but to change minds and win over youth again to produce and learn, as opposed to join some fanatic cults and indulge in jihad.

    Knowing Cosmology is a fair fight against occultism and all sorts of superstitions, as most people find it easy to read one book as opposed to a bunch of hard ones.

    Aviation and aerospace are connected and this is where we realize how much beauty there is in the Universe without needing some religious fantasies to grasp it,

  3. If you are expecting anger and hatefulness here, I’m sorry to disappoint,but I hope you will abide a bit of honest profanity. The SpaceX launch last week was FUCKING AWESOME! No other superlative seems to fit as far as I’m concerned. Their Falcon rocket is nothing especially revolutionary; it’s an evolutionary improvement on well proven RP/LOX engine technology. What IS revolutionary is their commitment to radically lowering the price of access to space, with reusable boosters being a big part of that. The fact that Elon Musk is using his internet-derived billions to revolutionize the space industry in the private sphere is also a bit awesome in it’s own way.

    The vast majority of the “old money” billionaire set seems content to just use their money to get even richer (usually at our expense) via increasingly complicated financial schemes and scams. Billionaires that use their money to do something genuinely unique and useful are another thing entirely, and a rarity indeed. To create an industry which has the potential to FINALLY make it financially feasible for human industry to expand out from our home planet is nothing less than awesome. Again, no other term fits. Mr. Musk may be an asshole as far as his ex-wife is concerned, but if SpaceX turns out to be the lever by which humanity can begin to utilize the resources of the rest of the solar system, he will go down in history along such business giants as Thomas Edison and Howard Hughes.

  4. I, too, thought what SpaceX had done with the successful recovery of a launch booster to be fantastic as well. I’ve followed SpaceX and seen their previous attempts, it’s been a process and I’m a fan. Watched the launch/recovery live with my 2 sons, one is a Systems Engineer University of Arizona graduate, working on his masters degree. He’s also indirectly working for NASA to launch a spacecraft to Bennu, an asteroid, and return a sample of what that asteroid is made of to Earth. The sample return mission is known as Osiris-Rex

    He started out with them to help develop the imaging system that determines if the rocks they are looking at are worth trying to capture. Now he’s part of the team doing mission planning and contingencies, lately he did a “communicate with the spacecraft” test while it’s still on the ground in Denver at Lockheed getting ready for launch in September 2016.

    He’s one of the jeans-and-hoodie-wearing engineers that will be involved with the next generation of manned spaceflight, going back to the moon, going to Mars, building the replacement for the International Space Station, etc. I’ve always been a space geek and it’s so cool and amazing to see what he’s working on (yeah I’m a little jealous) and what our future holds… When I hear him and his friends/coworkers talk of what’s in the future for American spaceflight is very exciting. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

    • I wish your son every success Marc. And yes, the landing of the Falcon was impressive, certainly.

      But Musk wishes to “build a city on Mars”. I have my doubts. Each kilogram of payload launched into LEO costs about $10k to get there. (Falcon is cheaper because the rates are discounted due to lower probabilities of successful insertion)
      Getting stuff into space is hugely expensive. That city is going to be a slow build.

      • Thanks. As for the cost of getting to Mars, many many things can be created on Mars, once you’re there. If you’re interested, I suggest this book:

        Excellent info. Recent Ridley Scott movie notwithstanding, (the book The Martian is way better then the movie, surprise!) we could bring along a few 3D printers and MAKE things we need as we need to make them. Mars has lots of raw materials. We can make rocket fuel from the atmosphere. No, humans will most likely never be able to create a shirtsleeve atmosphere, but it wouldn’t be a lot different than living in Antarctica in the winter. Other than atmospheric pressure.

        • I have sent off for Zurbin’s book. Thanks.
          Looking at Wiki, the surface of Mars seems very hostile to humans. Huge temperature fluctuations (-55c to +27c), lethal atmosphere (96% CO2) and very high cosmic radiation (equivalent to a full CT scan every 6 days).
          It might be safer in south central LA…

What do you think?