Karela Fry

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A private-public space

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WSJ is one of the many news aggregators covering the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon:

The first commercial spacecraft intended to dock with the international space station blasted off and reached orbit with split-second precision Tuesday, providing the strongest sign yet that private companies are moving closer to transforming U.S. space exploration.

The predawn skies around Cape Canaveral filled with the bright glow and deep rumble of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rocket lifting off the pad. The rocket carried an unmanned Dragon spacecraft on a highly anticipated test flight, which is scheduled to last about two weeks.

Within about 10 minutes, the bell-shaped capsule had reached orbit, established communication with the ground and deployed solar arrays that provide electric power. All are considered major accomplishments for a complex vehicle that had flown just once before.

Science magazine reports that this is far from a simple case of privatization:

In 2010, President Barack Obama announced that he was scrapping his predecessor’s 2004 vision for returning astronauts to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars because it was unaffordable and threatened to undermine NASA’s other programs, which include telescopes and other robotic exploration missions, Earth observation, and advanced aeronautics. In addition to abandoning plans for a lunar landing in 2020, the new policy assigns private companies the job of ferrying crew and cargo to and from the international space station so that NASA can be free to pursue more advanced technologies. The Administration even evoked the country’s past achievements in space, declaring that the new approach would be “putting science back into rocket science.”

The new policy strikes a much better balance among all the parts of NASA’s $18 billion budget, Holdren explained to an audience attending a 2-day symposium on the science of communicating science. But it requires a sophisticated understanding of the subject.

“It’s an interesting object lesson about how difficult it is to communicate when the messages require a lot of references to analysis and detail,” Holdren said during a panel discussion with three former presidential science advisers about their successes and failures in shaping their bosses’ policies toward science. In contrast, he said, “the counter-messages are very simple: Losing leadership, no vision, and giving up proven technologies for unproven ones. It’s a real challenge.”

This morning’s successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket by a California company known as SpaceX offers evidence that the commercial sector is “up to the task” of servicing the space station, Holdren said. “It may be worth reminding people that every rocket and capsule we’ve ever launched has been built by the private sector,” he added. “What’s different in this case is the management model.”

Perhaps the asteroid hunting corporation, Planetary Resources, understood this new paradigm in space exploration very quickly.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

May 23, 2012 at 10:08 am

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