I don’t want to “that guy” who complains about SpaceX but there are a couple things I noticed on the SpaceX launch feed that i need to talk about.
We’re you listening at that historic moment as the rocket finally achieved orbit, and the flight controller announced, with a quaver in her throat “Dragon has entered Earth orbit,” and then the entirety of mission control erupted in spontaneous applause and whooping? Wasn’t that a beautiful, human moment in the otherwise sedate history of mission controller jargon that crowds NASA’s air-ground transmissions?
That precisely is the problem.
If you know anything about space flight, or watched Apollo 13, you’d know that astronauts and mission controllers spend interminable hours performing mission simulations. These extremely detailed simulations include almost every eventuality. NASA mission controllers have a checklist for everything. Spacecraft running out of air? Turn to page 452, halfway down, run through the checklist.
When a real space mission finally happens it feels to NASA mission controllers much like a simulation. And so the transmissions are massively sedate and specific. Sure there are occasional moment of cheer, like when you learn that your capsule is not going to miss orbit and kill your astronauts. But still, mirth is kept at minimum.
Think of it this way: you bring your precious car, a beautiful red Cadillac, to a mechanic to be serviced. He changes the oil and when you start your car, he cheers “hot dang it actually works!” is this the kind of mechanic you want to keep visiting?
What about your heart surgeon?
So imagine being an astronaut on a SpaceX capsule. You reach ISS orbit and mission control chimes in “dudes, ladies, y’all made it into orbit! Sweet hey?”
SpaceX needs to grow up to the point that reaching orbit is a dull, regular event. Every time they launch. Then they will be safe for astronauts. I have faith this won’t take too long, mind you.
Another thing: the announcers on the broadcast kept making the same statement: that the launch of the dragon spacecraft was the first time a private company reached Earth orbit. True, sure, but not all that interesting. Companies do much more expensive and daring (at ledt economically) things every single day. The reason we haven’t had a private launch of a manned space vehicle in the past? There was no money in it, and I’m still not sure if there is given that NASA is pretty much the only customer at this point, and their budgets are shrinking week to week. I hope SpaceX can keep in the game for a while until space tourism can become feasible in, maybe, another decade or two. Or three. Or four…