On Sunday, a private company called SpaceX launched a rocket into orbit. You remember all the commotion a few years ago about Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne. That was a private rocket too, so what’s the big deal now? Well… Burt Rutan’s space ship is definitely worthy of praise, but it only takes millionaires on suborbital joy rides. It’s a tourism game for the Drag-My-Rich-Ass-Up-Mount-Everest set. And you don’t even get that much space time for your $200,000. You can stick your tongue out and lick space at the top of your bounce, but that’s about it.
SpaceX, on the other hand, was designed not to win a competition but to put satellites into space for paying customers. Put another way, NASA is never going to compete with Richard Branson to put tourists into space, but SpaceX is now competing with NASA and every other launch vendor on the planet. And their launch manifest is full.
The launch on Sunday was actually the fourth flight, but it was the first that worked perfectly from end to end, proving once again that space flight is hard. Here’s a great video of the launch. I love the fact that there’s no sound. No countdown, no voice of Mission Control. Just fizz, ka-boom, and off she goes!
The launch site is on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Here’s a fun exercise: can you find the launchpad with Google Earth by looking at the shape of the island as you fly away?