The world of space travel and technology is in for a new space race because of corporate America’s best Tony Stark imitator — Elon Musk.
Musk once again drew the world’s attention when SpaceX launched its newest rocket into orbit Feb. 6. The Falcon Heavy is the company’s biggest and most efficient rocket ever, with a similar payload as a fully-loaded Boeing 737 and nearly three times the payload of the Space Shuttle. The reusable nature of the Heavy’s rockets allows for a lower price point, at only $90 million. To call the current alternatives competitors would be a stretch — all are at least $15 million more expensive, and none deliver even half of its payload.
Musk and SpaceX have promised this launch since 2013, but a long train of setbacks pushed its first launch, but the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy and safe return of two out of its three boosters validates all the delay and work.
Outside of Musk’s propensity for showmanship, however, this launch was just a successful test. What interest could the public at large have in an industry that does not seem to affect them?
Well first off, space is really cool. And in this columnist’s opinion, we should be doing everything we can to go to infinity and beyond.
On a more realistic note, there are major benefits to committing resources to space travel and research. The total return on investment for each dollar spent on space travel and research is between $8 to $10, depending on the report. Regardless of whichever end of the spectrum your chosen reading falls on, that is a very worthwhile investment.
This return on investment comes from the unique research opportunities afforded by space environments. Computers, GPS receivers, and telephones can all trace their lineage back to advances first made in the development of a space program. The same can be said for patient monitoring and food research technologies.
Space travel in the past has undoubtedly been worth it. However, NASA’s programs were constrained by whatever the government decided to allocate to it for funding. That is not the case in this new, commercial age of spaceflight that SpaceX is leading.
The Falcon Heavy makes space travel a reality for potential deep-pocketed tourists and businesses that see potential in space travel and research. And of course, SpaceX’s successful launch pushes other companies and agencies to develop their own rockets that much more. Blue Origin, Boeing, and Virgin Galactic will all be pushed to develop their own programs in order to compete in the very lucrative field of space transport. That means more lucrative STEM jobs to go along with all the economic benefit that comes from research and development in space.
In the future, we may not always remember Feb. 6 as the day a space race started. However, Feb. 6 is without question the day that Elon Musk and SpaceX changed the game again and reignited interest in spaceflight.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker