Private enterprise on orbit’s doorstep

Question: What’s this a picture of?


Answer: it’s a rocket trying to fit in at a lightning rod party.

Real answer: it’s the SpaceX Falcon 9, the biggest rocket ever made by a private company on its own dime. Big enough to carry humans into orbit, she’s down at Cape Canaveral waiting for her debut flight. In the meantime, her guardians are aware of two important facts. One, Florida is the lightning capital of the world. Two, rockets are giant bombs that resemble lightning rods. Accordingly, they have placed their darling in the middle of a lightning rod forest so as to frustrate any naughty nearby thunderbolts intent on tickling her. Here, for example, is a picture of space shuttle Endeavour getting the near-miss treatment.

The three space shuttles that remain (can you name the five original shuttles?) are now 30 years old and due to be retired real soon now. Without help from companies like SpaceX, NASA will be in a bad situation. So rather than competing with SpaceX, NASA is cheering them on. In fact, if you look at the flight manifest, you can see that NASA plans on keeping them busy for a long time.

Only last fall I was writing about SpaceX’s success launching a test rocket, and last month they successfully placed a paying customer’s satellite in orbit. Commercial space transport has come a long way. I wish them luck with Falcon 9… it’s a big jump up from Falcon 1, and if it’s successful it will really have them playing with the big boys.