History was made when SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship landed two NASA astronauts at the International Space Station on May 31 marking the arrival of the first human spaceflight with private collaboration.
SpaceX Crew Dragon ferried NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to ISS located 400 km above the earth.
The Falcon 9 rocket carried the spaceship into the orbit. The mission Demo-2 was a ‘test flight’ as more missions are expected to follow in the coming months.
The private space company was founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk who also heads Tesla Motors.
The importance is that it is the first time astronauts traveled in a spaceship built and launched by a private company. Beyond gains in space science, it also opened a new chapter for the private space travel industry and gave a new leg up to space tourism.
The gains of NASA are humungous. NASA had been paying Russia’s Soyuz $86 million for each seat while Crew Dragon seats cost the agency only $55 million per seat, according to reports.
Boost for Space travel
Elon Musk has already expressed his plans to scale up space missions by adding new clients for the space transport business. SpaceX is reportedly planning paid trips to the Moon by 2023 and Mars mission is also high on its list.
The success of SpaceX has catalyzed the competition in the sector with Boeing also active in the fray for a launch vehicle to carry astronauts under the NASA Commercial Crew Program.
The golden age of commercial space flight begins
SpaceX senior advisor Garrett Reisman noted that the golden age of commercial space flight has begun. It sounds true after many false dawns and space tourism is looking to be on the cusp of a big leap.
After the much-hyped flight of American billionaire Dennis Tito as the first space tourist to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 on a Soyuz capsule paying $20 million, nothing much has happened in space tourism.
Among the space tourism companies planning action, there is Virgin Galactic that made news with its debut trip to near-space on 13 December 2018. Two pilots took Virgin’s spaceplane VSS Unity to an altitude of 82.7 kilometers.
More than 700 people have booked tickets on Virgin Galactic at an average cost of $200,000. The shortlisted passengers have been promised experiences of weightlessness and incredible views of Earth when the space plane hops into space and returns to a runway landing.
Blue Origin, led by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also mulling big plans with the reusable New Shepard rocket readying to launch humans.
Like Virgin, Blue Origin will also take six passengers to the edge of space and can float around the rocket’s capsule for several minutes, before returning to Earth.
According to Space policy analyst Laura Forczyk of the consulting firm Astralytical, “once we see humans flying on commercial rockets from the US space tourism will gain more credibility and boost the industry overall.”