By Henry Luo ’24
Who could have thought that in the short span of 20 years, SpaceX—an obscure aerospace company—would grow into a colossal contender in space exploration?
The billion-dollar company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk has made history, again.
In early September, SpaceX’s Inspiration4 launched four civilians into space on the reusable Falcon 9 rocket. It is said that the rocket was programmed to be fully automated and controlled by the ground crew. While this is not the first time that a private citizen has gone to space, it is the first time that a spaceship has been sent to space without professional astronauts onboard.
Why is this significant?
First of all, this is the hallmark for space commercialization and the space tourism industry. Although the cost of buying a seat on Crew Dragon (the capsule that is being launched into space) is still relatively high, the cost of 1 round trip is only 58 million compared to NASA’s 450 million. Not only does this open up a new industry, but this will also generate an extremely high amount of profit in the near future.
Next, the burgeoning space commercialization industry, which is supported by private companies, can shift space exploration away from political advantage to more science-driven goals. The political division in and between countries has created major hurdles in space exploration. Private companies are often not restricted or only influenced by the government which allows them to be separated from politics. With private companies standing at the frontier of space tourism and exploration, humanity’s future in space may finally be united.
However, with all of that said, space tourism has a massive environmental impact. A growing number of rocket flights, alongside the rise of space tourism, could harm Earth’s atmosphere. Not only that, every launch requires an immense amount of fuel and creates a lot of waste and soot.
While NASA’s chief climate advisor, Gavin Schmidt stated that, “The carbon dioxide emissions are negligible compared to other human activities or even commercial aviation,” scientists are worried about the potential long-term harm to the ozone layer in the still poorly understood upper atmosphere.
Inspiration4 is just the beginning of SpaceX – with the decommissioning from the International Space Station, and the rise of the new Chinese space station, Tiangong, the future remains bright for the corporation across borderlines for the better of humanity.