SpaceX Dragon Capsule Passes NASA Crew Trial, CEO Responds to Criticism from Neil Armstrong
March 19, 2012 1:07 PM
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Musk said he's sad that American space heroes like Armstrong and Gene Cernan don't approve of his work
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has all the confidence in the world that his company will provide the first manned spaceflight for America since the retirement of
NASA's space shuttle program
, especially since the company's Dragon capsule just completed the first NASA Crew Trial. But he is faced with criticism from some of the country's largest space heroes like Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan.
Musk recently participated in a "60 Minutes" interview with correspondent Scott Pelley, where Pelley was escorted around the SpaceX factory near Los Angeles, California. Musk showed off SpaceX projects like the Falcon Nine rocket and the Dragon cargo capsule, explaining that SpaceX is ultimately working to
make spaceflight cheap and available to anyone
. He also mentioned that all projects are assembled right in the plant, where materials come in one end of the factory and a full spacecraft comes out the other.
After NASA retired its space shuttle program last year, U.S. astronauts have depended on Russia to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Sending a U.S. astronaut on a Russian Soyuz rocket costs about $60 million per seat, and this price is expected to rise. With that in mind, America is working to create its own spacecraft once again, and SpaceX is at the top of the list of private companies competing to send a U.S. astronaut into space after NASA.
Elon Musk and the Falcon 9 [Source: Discovery]
Last week, SpaceX announced that the Dragon completed the first NASA Crew Trial, which is one of two tests that will help SpaceX work to build a prototype Dragon crew cabin. This milestone allowed NASA astronauts to provide feedback to SpaceX for a new crew cabin design. The prototype features seven seats, cargo racks, life support systems, and displays.
Despite this milestone, Musk's company has received some criticism recently from American space heroes Neil Armstrong, who was the first astronaut to step foot upon the Moon on Apollo 11, and Gene Cernan, who was the last man to step foot upon the moon on Apollo 17. Armstrong and Cernan have both testified to Congress that commercializing space would lead to safety issues and cost the taxpayers at some point. Musk's inexperience with space also has some worried, since his degrees are in business and physics, not aerospace. Musk claims to be self-taught through reading books and talking to those who are experienced.
Neil Armstrong (L) and Gene Cernan (R) testify before before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee [Source: Zimbio]
Musk told Pelley that he looked up to Armstrong and Cernan, and that it was disappointing to hear that they disapprove of his work.
"I was very sad to see that because those guys are, you know, those guys are heroes of mine, so it's really tough," said Musk. "You know, I wish they would come and visit, and see the hard work that we're doing here. And I think that would change their mind.
"What I'm trying to do is to make a significant difference in space flight, and help make space flight accessible to almost anyone. And I would hope for as much support in that direction as we, as we can receive."
Despite criticism from his heroes, Musk isn't giving up. He has poured $100 million into SpaceX and received a contract worth up to $1.6 billion with NASA. Musk said he would have to die or become completely incapacitated to ever give up on commercializing space.
Musk was happy to show Pelley around the factory, where Pelley was able to see the Dragon cargo capsule up close. The Dragon is expected to conduct an unmanned demonstration flight to the ISS on April 30, and if it's successful, SpaceX will be the first private company to dock at the ISS. The flight was
originally set for February
, but with so much riding on this launch, SpaceX decided to take its time and make sure all would go well when the time came.
But unmanned cargo deliveries aren't the only plans SpaceX has for Dragon. Pelley noticed that there are windows in the Dragon, which Musk said was for astronauts to see through. He said the Dragon was intended for manned missions and expects SpaceX to be the first private company to launch an American astronaut into space.
SpaceX Dragon Crew Vehicle [Source: SpaceX]
Musk's vision even extends beyond that. He wants to
help humans settle on other planets like Mars
at some point.
"I think it's important that humanity become a
," said Musk. "I think most people would agree that a future where we are a space-faring civilization is inspiring and exciting compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event. That's really why I started SpaceX."
SpaceX seems to be on its way, and despite the stones thrown from his heroes and the fact that SpaceX seems to be the underdog, Musk fully believes his company will be the one to make spaceflight a reality for America again.
"It's like a little kid fighting a bunch of sumo wrestlers," said Musk. "Usually, the sumo wrestlers win. We're a little scrappy company. Every now and again,
the little scrappy company wins
. And I think this'll be one of those times."
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3/21/2012 6:23:19 PM
Again, your reasoning is a dead end. At every stage of our evolution as a species we had a choice to either focus on the "here and now" or to aspire to something bigger. We didn't have to leave the safety of our caves either, or build fleets of ships, or establish new colonies, etc. There were always problems to be fixed here and now. You would have Spain turn down funding Columbus' expedition because they had huge problems to deal with at the time.
And if that wasn't bad enough, your entire premise is wrong. Giving money to NASA doesn't make it disappear... we aren't literally stuffing it into ships and launching it into space. That money funds research, creates hardware and pays people's salaries, it returns right back into the economy. And you're the one implying that we'll somehow magically have all the right tools when the time is right. Who's going to develop those tools? There needs to be basic research even if it has no immediately obvious applications. That's how most of our technology has been developed, from the transistor, to lasers, to carbon nanotubes. All research projects where someone just gave someone else some money and said here, see what you can figure out. Hell, the very internet you are using right now is a government sponsored research project. I suppose you think that was a waste of money and resources too right?
3/21/2012 8:32:15 PM
I can tell you haven't bothered to read the thread of posts here. You don't understand my stance on this subject if you claim that I believe NASA "a waste of money and resources". I never said, nor implied that it was. I was merely point out that we have larger priorities right now that will get in the way of future funding for projects like this.
What's more important to you, food? Or cool telescopes and probes? The way this nation is going, we are going to spend our way right into starvation before we know it. All I'm saying is that we need to focus MORE on important things FIRST. Secondary stuff can come later.
3/22/2012 12:14:24 PM
"You don't understand my stance on this subject if you claim that I believe NASA "a waste of money and resources". I never said, nor implied that it was."
That is EXACTLY what you said. And I quote: "I just refuse to believe that billions spent on a deep space probe satellite will somehow magically cure the looming food and clean water shortage problems." Meaning you feel money spent on a deep space probe could be better spent on other things. Sure, you tried to backtrack after that, but that was your position.
"What's more important to you, food? Or cool telescopes and probes? The way this nation is going, we are going to spend our way right into starvation before we know it. All I'm saying is that we need to focus MORE on important things FIRST. Secondary stuff can come later."
You haven't listened to anything I said. There will always be important stuff and research is not a secondary need. It's exactly what separates us humans from animals... we aren't just worried about a roof over our head and food on the table. We are also explorers. And cool telescopes do not result in there not being food on your table. it costs each tax payer a couple of dollars to fund them. Far more money is lost on much more dubious things. The government has spent more money on air conditioning in afghanistan then they have on those telescopes.
"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini
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