by Michael Potter
Los Angeles CA (SPX) May 28, 2012
Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:44 am on Tuesday May 22, 9 engines strapped to the SpaceX Falcon rocket, brilliantly ripped through the dark skies over Kennedy Space Center.
This weeks's launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral marks a new era in space exploration. SpaceX's bold move to rocket the first private spacecraft to the International Space Station brings new inspiration to space entrepreneurs around the world.
The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 is easily the most historic launch in 2012 and will probably be viewed as one of the most historic space launch events of the decade.
Other than the Falcon 9, the U.S. has no clear, compelling, sustainable path for man-rated launch capability. The rocket was not only carrying the Dragon capsule with cargo destined for the International Space Station, but the Falcon 9, also carries the hopes and aspirations of the future of the U.S. space program.
With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, there is no longer a way for the U.S. to get astronauts to space, other than through hitching $70million taxi rides from the Russians.
A few weeks ago the investigative news program "60 minutes" aired a piece on the economic carnage caused by the shut down of Shuttle and the loss of NASA's direction as a agency. Not only have 50% of NASA employees lost heir jobs at the Kennedy Space Center, but countless restaurants and shops have also had to close their doors.
When I interviewed Elon Musk for "Orphans of Apollo," very few people on the planet would have imagined that SpaceX would have a shot at becoming the centerpiece of the U.S. manned space program.
Today if you walk into the gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center, the very first prominent display is the SpaceX hats, shirts, mission patches and other space memorabilia. This was unimaginable three years ago. If you work at Kennedy Space Center, own a restaurant or a hotel in Cocoa Beach you are probably a fan of SpaceX.
For those that may perceive Elon's talents to be limited as a hardware geek or a software geek, they would be mistakenly underestimating his more farsighted and compelling vision. Elon wants humanity to focus on becoming a multiplanetary species.
Nowhere in NASA's mission statement is the vision of becoming a multiplanetary species mentioned. NASA must find a way to capture the dreams of a new generation, and they must find a way to execute on these dreams.
It is interesting to note that NASA removed "protect our home planet" from it's mission statement as a way to try to politically the escape global warming debate.
NASA should immediately put this language back into the mission statement. Not as a political accommodation to global warming, put so they can focus on defending our planet and our species from an asteroid strike.
Through the most important American institution of all, private enterprise, Elon is injecting creativity, excitement, passion, ingenuity, challenge, into space enterprise. If SpaceX continues to succeed, both tangibly and symbolically, Elon will have to be viewed as one of the most significant space leaders of the decade.
Michael Potter is the Director of the award winning documentary film, "Orphans of Apollo," featuring Elon Musk and SpaceX. Potter is also on the Advisory Board of the Lifeboat Foundation and a Senior Fellow of the International Institute of Space Commerce (IISC).
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