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The future of space exploration

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College of Charleston

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The future of space exploration

Will SpaceX put us on Mars?

Bridget Ierace

3.7.18

The recent SpaceX test launch of the Falcon Heavy has reminded us all of the technology it will take to get people off of our planet and onto others. This successful test took place on Feb. 6 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. It was memorable and caught the attention of the world for putting a Tesla Roadster into space.

This launch is important besides for putting a Tesla into space. Based on the amount of payload it can bring into orbit, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V, which was last flown in 1973. It also can operate at a lower cost than other rockets due to its reusable boosters, which return to Earth after the launch. In February, two of the three boosters were recovered. Being able to reuse these expensive rocket parts makes launches more cost-effective, so more can be done.

The decision to put a Tesla into orbit around the sun was a bold move by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. that helped gather more attention onto this launch by the fun and interesting concept of putting a car into space. This stunt called attention to the scientific realities of space exploration. The public can get excited about Starman, a dummy, cruising through an orbit around our sun in a Roadster because it’s just cool. It gathered more interest than if the first launch had a payload of satellites, like future SpaceX launches will.

In the past, space exploration has always been a nationalistic venture. America got to the moon inspired not just by scientific motivations, but largely by the intense rivalry with the Soviet Union. The funding of space exploration from federal sources has significantly decreased along with Cold War tensions. NASA’s budget currently is about half of a percent of the total federal budget, when at its peak in 1966 it was over four percent. The competition to get us back into space has shifted from national agencies to private industry.

The bulk of space exploration has historically been funded by governments and represented the interests of the country, but the future of space exploration has fallen into the hands of private companies. Private companies don’t have the same concerns with funding space projects as governments do. There’s a limited federal government budget and often science does not get prioritized. It’s difficult to compare funding for sending people to space when it could also go to helping struggling people on Earth. But companies like SpaceX don’t have to worry about the bureaucracy and politics of budgets because they can focus solely on spending the large amounts of money they have available on expanding space exploration, instead of having to use it on other concerns.

Interest has shifted to putting humans on Mars, and science is taking place to make this happen. SpaceX is dedicated to this mission, so it’s extremely likely that we will have private industry responsible for getting people to Mars in the near future. The success of this launch encourages the advances of science and technology to bring people back into space, which has stopped being a national focus in the past few decades.

The next Falcon Heavy launch is scheduled to take place in June and will bring 25 spacecraft with it. These satellites that will be getting a ride off the Earth’s surface with this Falcon Heavy will be helping conduct scientific research and experiments by NASA and other institutions.