Why Central Florida Should Care About SpaceX Success

As the Falcon 9 rocket soars towards the International Space Station, history was made with SpaceX’s successful launch of the Dragon cargo capsule atop its rocket today. It truly is a monumental achievement in the transformation of space travel and here’s why Central Florida should care.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., to begin a demonstration flight, May 22, 2012. Photo credit: NASA TV

Space fascinates me. It is the final frontier. Even my Senior Seminar for Political Science at Saint Louis University in 2005 was “Politics of the Future” and one of the main focuses all semester was space. Dr. Lomperis knew exactly what he was teaching tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s moment represents a shift in how we will move ahead with the industrialization of space. If successful, it will be the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the space station – and the first US spacecraft since the final shuttle mission. For one thing, that means we won’t have to pay the Russians or simply watch the Chinese blast into space.

When the shuttle program ended, it hit this nation hard. It hit me hard. I’m still upset. Central Florida and the Space Coast were hit harder than anywhere else and are still suffering. But now we have something to be excited about. And this could mean a revival in US space exploration and transportation, which is exactly what our region needs right now.

You see, NASA and our government took us far. They changed everything with our technology and our shuttle program. But hearing Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut to travel in space, speak this morning really opened my eyes. She made the great point that regular access will be needed if we are ever going to industrialize space. She also mentioned that it was the private sector that built many of the parts used by NASA already. And that’s the key. Government, i.e. NASA, does not need to do routine, mundane tasks. There’s no way the government could sustain the budget for what will become routine and regular access to space. And it doesn’t need to.

Government’s role in exploration should always be a bigger picture. It should provide new visions and push the envelope and take on the necessary risks to move us forward that the private sector never will – until it’s profitable of course. At the same time, NASA is able to provide the needed expertise and guidance to companies just like SpaceX. In fact, NASA has already helped to the tune of over $300 million to SpaceX for this project and that’s a good use of money. It will lead to additional avenues for repeatable work and that will be of great return. It’s also a great thing that NASA is closely involved and helping steer our new space adventures.

This is not one small step, but one giant leap for the industrialization of space. This will be the first step towards regular access and transportation to space, which means the possibilities of mining and commercialization are real and right in front of us.

As a good friend mentioned today, this will also allow NASA’s genius to focus on things the private sector can’t: asteroids, the moon, Mars, and beyond. They can do what they do best, dream big and push the envelope. That’s my hope at least.

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