SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule.
Yesterday SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation), the private spaceflight development company founded by Paypal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket into orbit at 2:50 pm EST. This historic event clears the way for serious private space exploration, since Falcon 9 is the same launch system that SpaceX plans to use to take crews and cargo into Earth orbit on its Dragon spacecraft.
Musk has reportedly invested more than 100 million dollars of his own money in the project. In February, he personally ran out of cash. According to Musk, the way to future space exploration lies in private investment and development:
"There are a lot of critics out there we wouldn't convince under any circumstances," Mr. Musk said in an interview earlier this year. "There is zero chance of [NASA] affording another Apollo program" and funding it with tax dollars, he said.Falcon 9 will help service the International Space Station under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program, while NASA retires the Space Shuttle fleet to develop its own heavy launch capability. As space exploration enters a new public-private hybrid phase, the huge quantities of money and expertise involved are perhaps secondary to the big personalities required to marshal such forces and drive these projects forward.
"If we want to do great things on that scale again, it's going to be for a much smaller budget." One that relies on commercial entities providing and operating spacecraft at discounted prices. "The best thing that NASA can do is define the goal, but not define the path."