First Space X Technologies docked their Dragon spacecraft with the ISS.  Now they’ve achieved another milestone in commercial spaceflight.  Btw – you can see our interview of Elon Musk talking about it here.

NASA is reporting that SpaceX has met the first three performance milestones for its “Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative”.  As the name suggests, CCiCap is NASA’s plan for commercial spaceflight that can be used by government and private customers alike.

So what exactly are these “performance milestones”?

According to NASA, the first two milestones include a technical and financial review.  It’s the third milestone, announced on October 29th, that marks what we engineers will think of as the first real step in getting people back into space.  Space X presented NASA with details about how it will design, build and test its integrated system, a combination of a rocket and a manned capsule, similar to the Apollo missions.

SpaceX is already under contract with NASA for a dozen resupply missions to the ISS.  Now this collaboraiton is spurring rapid development in an industry that had long floundered due to budget cuts and a lack of public interest.

Some skeptics have been wary of private companies venturing into the realm of spaceflight.  And in some regards I would consider myself among them. 

When the Challenger disaster occurred in 1986, shuttle launches ground to a halt. For nearly two years manned spaceflight was at a standstill.  When I think of people’s reaction to the Challenger disaster I wonder what their reaction would be to a similar event undertaken by a commercial venture?

Would the shareholders lose faith and abandon the company? Would other private ventures shy away from reaching for the stars due to its inherent risks? Would space exploration grind down to a complete stop?

But there are some good arguments for commercial space exploration. 

Ann Druyan, famous for collaborating with Carl Sagan on the creation of the gold records that travel aboard the two Voyager spacecraft, once lamented that “As soon as NASA got involved with the Space Shuttle we lost the grand purpose.”

In some respects I think Ann is right. As engineers we can’t settle for just orbiting.  We have to use new ideas to venture further and explore our potential.

Here’s to hoping that the “grand purpose” isn’t interrupted again.

 

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