The spacecraft returned from the International Space Station on Sunday carrying research samples. The capsule will first be transported from the ocean to the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas, but the research cargo will be removed from the capsule at a California port and transported to NASA for analysis.
According to the press release, the SpaceX Dragon cargo includes a Glacier freezer containing research samples that were collected as part of microgravity research work on the International Space Station.
NASA did not release specific information about the research, except to say that the samples would, “…help advance multiple scientific disciplines on Earth and provide critical data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body.”
The SpaceX mission is unique, because it marks the first privately funded and operated space mission supported by NASA. By all accounts, the overall mission was a resounding success.
The Dragon Capsule
It’s interesting to note that not all of the cargo contains research samples destined for NASA. Apparently, part of the cargo is headed to Texas and the SpaceX company itself.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule was carried on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on October 7th, when it launched from Cape Canaveral on its way to the International Space Station.
The function of the capsule was not only to bring back research and other cargo from the space station, but it also carried crew supplies, research equipment and other hardware and supplies to the ISS and its crew.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters:
“With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development. Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm — an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration.”
There are planned to be at least 11 resupply missions to the International Space Station from now through 2016. The plan is known as the “Commercial Resupply Services”.
Some are calling this privatization of the space program a natural evolution of the space industry. Philip McAlister, the director of commercial spaceflight for NASA told USA Today that, “When you start turning this over to the private sector, there’s no limit.”
Unfortunately, turning the space program over to the private sector also means that billions of dollars are getting funneled to private corporations. Over the last six years, according to USA Today, NASA has paid $2 billion to private companies just for building such “space taxis” for moving personnel and cargo to the International Space Station. NASA has also pledged another $1.1 billion in private funding to major corporations like Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.
The Space Taxi Program
The program commonly referred to as the “Space Taxi” is actually Nasa’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COCTS) program. Multiple companies are taking part in the program.
Even though NASA successfully built a space shuttle capable of carrying astronauts into orbit – and to the moon – the agency is now paying “commercial space partners” to redevelop the technology to launch astronauts into space, with a target of 5 years to get there – as though the U.S. hasn’t already been there before.
Why is NASA re-inventing the wheel when it comes to launching crew and supplies into orbit? According to NASA, the human spaceflight program is no longer a core effort of the agency. Most funds are being diverted and focused on exploring deep space, such as the Mars exploration program, and eventually an effort to better explore the moon as well as passing asteroids.
The real interest of commercial companies that are investing in space flight technologies is the colonization of low-earth orbit – with dreams from entrepreneurs ranging from Virgin Galactic’s efforts to build space flight tourism all the way to Robert Bigelow’s dream of offering “space habitats” to scientists and corporations for space research.
While the proponents of privatizing the space industry claim that natural competition and free markets will generate an industry growth similar to the Internet boom following the initial public offering of the popular Netscape browser.
However, the privatization effort also means that now elected government officials now have yet another avenue to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars into corporate hands.