The serial entrepreneur is never shy of making bold claims, and recently he announced plans for Space X to fly two private citizens on a mission around the moon by late 2018.
The journey would take about a week and the astronauts will travel deeper into space than any human has ventured before, the Washington Post reports. Let’s think about this. Space X has never flown people before and in the last two years has had two rockets blow up on the launch pad or in flight. Even more challenging is that the mission would require the untested Falcon Heavy Rocket which has yet to fly and a modified Dragon Capsule which is also, as yet, untested in space.
So far Musk’s Space X has operated unmanned missions in a long-running partnership with NASA, to fly cargo to the International Space Station. The program to run manned missions has been delayed but the company still claims it will happen by the middle of next year.
Most, therefore, expect the end 2018 deadline for the lunar mission to be delayed but SpaceX has earned itself a reputation for setting and mostly achieving ambitious targets. It was the first private company to fly to the ISS and the first ever to land the first stage of a rocket that had lifted its payload into orbit. Along with Boeing, Space X has worked closely with NASA to develop reusable launch systems that not only service the space station but could ultimately go to Mars. Maybe spurred by this pace, the private sector is setting the agenda for space exploration. NASA recently announced that it is considering adding astronauts to the first flight of its Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule the Post reports.
Interestingly, the change of administration in the White House has also had an impact on space exploration. Bob Richards, the chief executive of Moon Express, a private company that plans to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon this year is quoted as saying “With the new administration, regardless of what you think politically, comes a new sense of commercial partnerships which is good for us in the space industry. I feel, as many do, a lunar tide rising. The political environment is catching up with logic. With the moon as an important step for even deeper space exploration.”
As the Trump administration looks for a big win in space exploration, somewhat like Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the moon over 50 years ago, there is a new willingness to commit dollars. Some, particularly outside the U.S., look back on that decade in the 1960’s as America’s greatest hour, when the country achieved something no one else dared or could develop the technology to do.
Not just for that generation, but in the years that followed it was an inspirational program that developed technologies and advanced science for decades to follow. Maybe it is with one eye on history and a fondness for private enterprise that the new administration is looking at the private sector to again take America to new goals. One man who does not lack the ambition to fulfill such ambition is Elon Musk. We should applaud it.