Hey, I’m at the SpaceX launch!
I’m going to see the launch of the SpaceX Dragon!
History is complete with men and women of an “easy comfort” (i.e., loaded) who became patrons to the arts and sciences. In some cases themselves becoming skilled practitioners in their own right. Galileo owed his livelihood to funding from the Medici family; Tycho, the Danish court; Copernicus, the wealthy Watzenrode family of the Polish town, Torun’. Lick Observatory above San Jose, California, owes its existence to James Lick, a successful importer of cocoa in the latter 19th century. The Keck Observatory in Hawaii was funded in large part from the Keck Foundation, which was started by W.M. Keck who was the founder of Superior Oil Company, now owned by Exxon.
With NASA’s role in space exploration slowly eroding away, a new class of patrons have come forward to help fund private space initiatives. Successful pioneers in the tech boom of the recent decades are finding themselves patrons to the next generation of scientists, visionaries, engineers and explorers. One of the most visible of these is SpaceX, a company created by Paypal founder, Elon Musk.
Founded in 2002 to create a cheap, reusable space transportation system for both manned and unmanned missions, SpaceX has successfully launched both their Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets. The latter is designed to haul crew and cargo up to the International Space Station so as to take the place of the Space Shuttle that was retired last year. In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private firm to successfully launch a payload into orbit and then retrieve it. In this case, the payload was an unmanned version of the Dragon spacecraft.
The Dragon was created ultimately to take crews beyond LEO, low earth orbit, out to lunar distances and beyond. But first, baby steps still need to be taken. With only a single flight under their belt, NASA has approved an ambitious second mission that would take the Dragon and its payload all the way up to the space station where, if all goes well, it will dock, becoming only the third spacecraft – and the first private one – to do so. (The others being the Space Shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz).
This will be a monumental flight and history making in both space exploration and the business world.
I have had the good fortune of being invited to witness the launch of the Falcon 9/Dragon mission at Cape Canaveral in early February. I’ll be tweeting, Facebook posting, and blogging about my experiences both on launch day and during other activities that SpaceX may have planned.
This will be my seventh launch, having seen Apollo 11, 15, and 17 take off, two shuttle missions and the Cosmic Background Explorer. Few things are more spectacular than an Apollo-Saturn V (at night no less), but any orbital launch is exciting nonetheless. This one will have an excitement all it’s own.
Our host is Steve Jurvetson, a partner with the Draper-Fisher-Jurvetson investment group and one of SpaceX’s backers. Jurvetson is a long time space buff himself, having amassed an impressive collection of NASA space artifacts including a number of items I had bid on. (Note to self: don’t bid against a millionaire, he will always win). And as both a NASA-nerd and SpaceX backer, his success permits him to be involved in the next phase of human exploration. He’s one lucky guy. As am I, to get this opportunity and in turn “bring” you along with me.
T-0 is currently scheduled for April 30.