In the News: First Private Craft Docks With Space Station
The biggest news story you might have missed this week is that a privately funded, designed and operated spacecraft docked with the International Space Station.
For decades, space programs were the domain of governments, starting with the Cold War-fueled Space Race in the 1950s and ’60s, which culminated with men landing on the Moon. Because of enormous costs involved, governments continued to be the only entities capable of putting objects in space. What this meant for space travel in the long term is that humanity would never really have a presence in space.
Aside from launching communication satellites, GPS satellites, and spy satellites, governments really don’t have much incentive to do anything up there. It’s long been thought (by people interested in space travel) that further exploration would never go anywhere unless private enterprise got involved. Someone has to be able to make money in space, or at least have the potential for it.
That’s starting to become a reality, or at least close enough that we can perceive the coming reality. The docking of “Dragon” with the ISS is a huge first step in that process, showing that privately owned and operated spacecraft can do the job as well as government machines.
Now companies can move forward with plans for high-priced joyrides in reusable low-orbit spacecraft. Those rides will cost millions and will last only minutes. But they’ll help fund future projects. At least that’s the hope. Space hotels, casinos, resorts, all sound cheesy, but if someone is able to make money from them, it’ll make sure that space exploration and travel continues.
Some well-known names in the technology field recently announced that they hope to mine the asteroids. If nothing else, they might find out if something up there is worth mining. There’s be a significant startup cost — getting men and machines in place — but once a mining operation is begun, it’ll be cheap and easy to send raw materials back to Earth orbit, where zero-gravity factories can turn out products that couldn’t be made on Earth.
Eventual long-term goals of space-minded people include colonizing other planets or at least finding a way to grow food elsewhere and ship it back home. But it won’t happen until someone can make money from it, hence the importance of the news article above.