The SpaceX Race

Elon Musk is shooting for the moon. Not literally, mind you. He’s shooting for Mars. Elon Musk and his venture, SpaceX, represents the first of what will soon be many; a private industrialist’s foray into space exploration. Up until recently, the exploration of space has been limited to governments. While the funding for NASA was high during the cold war, it tapered off afterwards, as the two competing countries had little to prove. This has changed in recent years, as countries like China and India make their way into space. People are becoming interested in space again.

Normally, during the launch of a rocket, the primary booster is jettisoned and discarded. To lower the cost of sending things into space, SpaceX is trying to reuse these boosters by landing them of at sea. SpaceX has managed to successfully land three reusable rocket boosters back onto platforms out at sea.

You might be one of those people who are wondering why we’re even still bothering with space. Right now, you’re rolling your eyes, saying “Mr. Charlton, there is nothing out there in space.” Pardon me if I come across a little rude here, but I’ll tell you what is in space. The Goddamn rest of the Universe.

There’s energy to be harvested, heavy metals to extract, light metals for those who prefer a more classic sound, water, and maybe even the possibility of life. Not to mention there is one monstrous thing waiting out there for the first person who decides to get there first. Money. With all of these resources out there, completely untouched and untapped, the first person to get their hands on that treasure would be untouchable. There’s trillions of dollars worth of resources out there. Space mining may create the first trillionaires.

Wrapped up in mask of someone who has humanities best interest at heart, whether it’s with space exploration or electric cars, you have to remember that Elon Musk is a business man, first and foremost. He’s known for SpaceX and Tesla, but was the founder of PayPal, the giant online service that handles billions of dollars of web transactions. I’m not suggesting that what Elon Musk is doing is less than admirable or without merit to humanity. He’s changed the way we do business with PayPal, he’s changing the way we drive and commute with Tesla, and he’s changing the way we look at space with SpaceX.

The only thing concerning me is he want to get other companies up into space. Governments, minus the occasional ‘Star Wars’ idea of putting nuclear devices in space, have so far been respectful of space. Would corporations be as respectful of the stars as they are of my space down here?

The last thing I want to see in the sky is a massive space billboard, a digital projection across the ionosphere, saying ‘Today’s sunshine brought to you by Coca-Cola’. You can be absolutely certain some cretin in the Coca-Cola marketing department would read this and think to themselves “You, know what, if we could do that, that would be great. Wouldn’t you want to see that? A friendly reminder to our customers that, hey, if your feeling parched, there’s always the refreshing taste of Cola-Cola to quench your thirst.”

I kid. Realistically though, there is another issue, and it still has to do with corporations entering space. It’s the debris. As you read this, there are roughly 29,000 bits of trash larger than a cantaloupe, 670,000 pieces of trash bigger than a marble, and there’s 170 million pieces smaller than that. Even something like a fleck of paint can do damage when it’s traveling at kilometers per second. Should an error occur, and a commercial rocket ends up accidentally hitting a satellite, then the results could be catastrophic. The two object could break into thousands of pieces themselves. This debris could impact other satellites, causing them to get destroyed and become trash as well. It’s called the Kessler syndrome, a runaway of space collisions, rendering our ability as a species to leave the planet impossible. Simply put, if there’s too much junk in orbit, we as species will be unable to leave and be stuck on Earth.

Should we be worried about corporations leading the pack regarding space exploration? Will they be able to handle their own due diligence in our orbit? I’ll be talking about that tomorrow.


The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. It’s a big enough topic for two posts, so I’m going to milk it when I can.

p.s.s. Although I’d be annoyed with a commercial, projecting a movie from space would be an interesting way to bring the world together.



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