by Audrey Hsu
Just as common household items Kleenex, Q-tips, Chapstick, Band-Aids, etc. are known by their original trademarks instead of their actual terms, (i.e. tissue, cotton swab, lip balm, bandage), NASA is synonymously linked with the exploration of space. When I was a child, my parents, being the attentive doting parents they are, took me to every museum/theme park/book fair, etc they could, and this included NASA. With my stubby fingers and short legs, I remember a vast expanse of the ceiling, the pristine floors, and walls smelling like the very embodiment of science. The buzz of whirring simulations and machines interspersed with clambering little people my age exploring the vicinities, the important looking adults striding about with vital numbers and calculations in their heads, carrying identification badges and clipboards. The awe of it all overwhelmed my senses and I was standing still, bewildered. A kindly passing employee took notice of this, and gently took out a NASA sticker larger than both my hands put together and pressed it into my grasp. When we got home, I proudly had adjourned it high on my bedroom door, and to this day it is still there. That’s why when upcoming aerospace company SpacEx made its way into the public eye, I felt cheated. My childhood memories of glorious space exploration and the delicate balance of science and mathematics for this cause were not to be ruined by commercial opportunities by other another company looking to exploit the riches of space travel. The fantasy of space was becoming cheapened and tarnished, I could only imagine smarmy business magnates looking on smugly cutting red ribbons for grand openings of space airports while driving the market for tours to Mars!
In defense of my rampant imagination, I can only say that the impressions that one makes as a child are the longest lasting and most affectable. With no other previous competition to NASA, it seemed unnatural that a lesser known, the budding company should be able to initiate large-scale operations such as the launch and orbit of spacecrafts. As I looked further into SpacEx’s history and objectives I became more and more intrigued. For those of you who do not yet know, here is a brief summary. SpaceEx was created in 2002 by Elon Musk (founder of Tesla), and its main goal is to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” It seemed to me that the vision for SpacEx’s aspirations was as dreamy as NASA’s, “To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind,” if not more specific. Already they began to break records in 2008 successfully launching the first privately funded liquid propellant rocket into orbit, the Falcon 1. In 2010, SpacEx launched the flight of the spacecraft Dragon, the prime focus of their labors, to the International Space Station, becoming the first private company accomplish such a feat as well as recovering of the spacecraft. Since 2012 the Dragon has been used for shipments of cargo to space, but it is being refined and attuned to accommodate humans, and the first manned flight (an arrangement with NASA) is to take place in 2018 in a bend around the moon and back.
Along with the invention of CRISPR technology (read the article on CRISPR), it would be hard to contend which advancement is more fantastical. Imagine going to the airport and looking up at the large screens displaying arrival and departure time of flights to Narita, Changyi, JFK, and… Mars? At the start of SpacEx, nobody would take confidence in a random millionaire who had no past experience in the business, whom big companies like NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, did not acknowledge. They had rough beginnings when looking for where to launch, and found a small island previously used for U.S. military purposes. Currently, though, SpacEx is flourishing, to say the least, with 8 million dollars in backorders for cargo shipments and satellites to the space station, they are also close to achieving reusable rockets launches. In short, perhaps it is time for a new era. SpacEx may yet be the company to quite literally propel our world to the first stages of deep space exploration in the next decades. All my star struck brain can visualize now are those envious Starfleet academy outfits and all the geek worthy scenes in Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, and Ender’s Game.