On Saturday, May 30, a half century after NASA and the efforts of more than 377,000 corporate contractors first delivered two of my personal friends to the moon, America’s enterprising private sector delivered humans beyond Earth again.
This latest historic event witnessed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to orbit aboard a Crew Dragon vehicle that docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday morning.
SpaxeX’s milestone achievement will competitively position the company to keep its rockets and Dragon capsules busy for a long time, serving to taxi crews to orbit, and functioning as an attached ISS lifeboat.
An expanded Crew Dragon capsule, SpaceX’s scaled-up "New Starship" spacecraft, may serve as a small habitat for NASA’s planned lunar-orbiting “Gateway” space station.
Corporate founder Elon Musk has even more ambitious plans. His company is developing a much larger "Super Heavy Rocket," along with the New Starship upper stage, capable of extending human exploration to the moon, Mars, asteroids, and future deep space destinations beyond.
While appropriately crediting last weekend’s historic accomplishment to a carefully coordinated joint private-public partnership, the same can be said regarding America’s Mercury-Gemini-Apollo lunar programs of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Let’s not forget that while NASA played crucial guidance, planning and supervisory roles, many commercial companies did most of the detailed design development and manufacturing "heavy lifting." Some were long-established aerospace powerhouses, including North American Rockwell Corp.’s Space Division, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., and Boeing’s Aerospace Division.
Others were far less well-known newcomers, such as the International Latex Corporation (ILC) of Dover, Delaware, a division of a company that manufactured Playtex bras and girdles.
Their uplifting engineering experience at the forefront of soft material technology came in enormously handy to develop space suits that then and now have made human space exploration possible.
It has been my great life honor to know and work with many remarkable public and private sector people who played key roles in America’s human lunar, Space Shuttle, and International Space Station development and astronautics achievements.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has been a close personal friend, professional colleague, and valued contributor to our University of Houston space architecture research and graduate-level teaching activities over a period spanning four decades.
During later years of his life, Astronaut Neil Armstrong (prior to his death in 2012) served on our board of Space Industries, Inc., a 100% private investor- funded commercial space company I co-founded in the mid-1980s with the NASA Johnson Space Center’s original Chief Engineer, Dr. Max Faget and two other partners, Guillermo Trotti and James Calaway.
Other board members included NASA JSC’s first two directors, Dr. Robert Gilruth and Christopher Kraft. Westinghouse and Boeing became early corporate partners.
Space Industries later co-ventured with other privately-held companies through merger and acquisition stock interests which were acquired by General Dynamics in 2003 for $1.5 billion.
Public interest and enthusiasm about the future of America’s space program is now being turbocharged by a fresh new breed of highly competitive, adventurous, innovative, and business risk-tolerant entrepreneurs. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a prime example, emerged from a fledgling private startup to a brashly innovative and successful upstart in a remarkably short time.
Since beginning in 2002 with barely a dozen workers based in a converted warehouse near a Southern California strip mall, the company has grown to 7,000 employees operating facilities in Washington State, Texas and Florida.
Despite some setbacks, including two catastrophic explosions of unmanned Falcon 9 rockets and nagging NASA safety concerns about the Dragon capsule riding on top, SpaceX has notched several previous records.
It was the first private entity to place a satellite into Earth’s orbit; the first to land and then repeatedly reuse motor parts of returning rockets; and the first to send a private spacecraft to link up and transfer cargo to the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s latest human orbital launch record achievement puts the company ahead of commercial competitor Boeing’s "Starliner" capsule launch program which has struggled with its own technical setbacks.
Having previously failed to dock an unmanned Starliner with the ISS due to a computer software glitch, Boeing plans to conduct another test attempt later this year.
America is now also engaged in a very different sort of public-private "moon shot" effort involving more than 30 Big Pharma and small biotech firms that are racing for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The stakes of winning or losing this race are incalculably high, with an outcome that will dramatically affect the physical and economic wellbeing of our entire population for years or even decades to come.
Thanks to outstanding public-private sector cooperation, rapid FDA approval enabled Roche to commence their vaccine high-volume tests in January; Moderna turned around its vaccine for batch testing in just 42 days; and Gilead Sciences is already in Phase 3 trials for its remdesivir treatment.
Bayer has announced it will freely donate three million potentially promising and demonstrably safe chloroquine tablets for coronavirus prophylactic and treatment testing trials.
Above all, let’s remember that America has a winning history of rising to big challenges.
We should be confident that the same competitively innovative spirit that put humans on the moon — that will one day deliver others to Mars — will overcome this virus threat as well.
Larry Bell is a senior visiting scholar at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He is also an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. Larry has written more than 600 articles for Newsmax and Forbes, and is the author of several books. Included are: "Cyberwarfare: Targeting America, Our Infrastructure and Our Future" (2020), "The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives" (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful" (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.
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