Even though we read about events “of historic importance” on a daily basis, this Wednesday, on May 27, 2020 promises to be a truly historic one. Around half past eight in Central European Time on Wednesday this week, SpaceX’s spacecraft Crew Dragon will launch atop Falcon 9 towards the International Space Station, with two experienced American astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.
(Low Earth orbit) manned spaceflights can hardly be regarded as unconventional in the past decades, but the significance of this flight reaches far beyond the usual. This will be the first flight carried out by a private company, and even though we know what the innovation of the corporate sector means in the United States (major state subsidies in the field of patents), it’s still a quite substantial improvement in space travel that, filling in the vacuum resulting from the space shuttle’s retirement, several companies on the market are ready for commercial spaceflight, as evidenced by the event on Wednesday, and resulting in the fact that the NASA will no longer have to rely on its Russian (once again, public) partner when it wants to send men to space.
And the significance of the fact that there was absolutely no hope for the revolutionary development of the aerospace industry in the near future until the fate of the same was in the hands of governments (meaning: the will of voters) reaches even further. Market based companies, however, will find – and most probably already know at the moment – the profitable aerospace segments owing to which the manned exploration of at least the near-Earth space can soon begin.
If I think of the Age of Discovery, the revolutionary change following the period of the first couple of voyages (a few decades) when the discovered areas gained an actual economic relevance comes to my mind.
The first spaceflights belonged to the terrain of the symbolic competition between rival civilizations, but once the economic importance of space travel and our technological capacities find each other, there will be nothing standing in the way of the booming start of space exploration in the upcoming decades.