Hopes for new private initiatives in manned space flight are reaching new heights following SpaceX’s successful launch of its Dragon capsule into low Earth orbit. The launch of the Dragon on May 22 was the beginning of SpaceX’s first mission to the International Space Station (ISS), fulfilling a job for NASA that the space agency no longer has the capacity to conduct on its own: reach the space station it helped to build.
A new company, Planetary Resources, intends to go into outer space and mine minerals and even water from asteroids near our planet. The Platinum groups of metals, which include ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium as well as platinum, are found in small concentrations on Earth, which is one reason that these metals are so valuable, but on asteroids the metals can be found in almost pure form and in huge masses.
In the context of last year’s final flight of NASA’s space shuttle, critics and supporters of the federal agency speculated about the future of human space flight — and the role of government in such endeavors. Private industry and several entrepreneurs have sought for many years to create a role for non-governmental space flight. Now one of the leaders in the aerospace industry is projecting a future for human exploration of the solar system with a far less astronomical price tag than those that have accompanied governmental space programs.
Many were surprised when the prediction by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of potential major disruptions of power grids, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, and internet communications as a result of a solar storm failed to materialize. Most were likely totally unaware of the threat.
It was in the fall of 1962 that President John F. Kennedy set forth his vision of seeing Americans successful land on the Moon and return safely by the end of the decade, but an important step on the race to the Moon had already been taken seven months earlier. On February 20, 1962, a 40-year-old Marine Corps pilot from the state of Ohio became the first American to orbit the Earth. Now, 50 years later, former Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) still insists he never saw himself as a hero, but a nation that was in the depths of the Cold War at the time of his flight aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft would have disagreed.