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Founder of SpaceX and tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, said his company would be able to conduct short test flights of a Mars spaceship by as early as next year. Musk was speaking at music, film and media festival, South by South West (SXSW), in Texas (Bloomberg). However, aware of his reputation for not delivering on deadlines, he added: “Sometimes my timelines are a little… y’know.”
Musk’s life-long dream has been for humans to colonize Mars. At the event, he said another world war was “probable” and speculated that settlers on the Red Planet might organise themselves as a government based on a direct democracy model.
Musk also voiced his opinion on AI, saying it “is far more dangerous than nukes.” He ended his appearance at the festival by wearing a cowboy hat and singing “My Little Buttercup” with his brother playing on guitar (Bloomberg).
“Five, four, three, two, one. Zero. All engines running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff! Thirty-two minutes past the hour. Apollo 11. Tower cleared!”
Even for earthlings who weren’t around to remember it, those words from NASA control center inside Cape Kennedy, Florida, announcing the Apollo 11 moon launch on July 16, 1969, still resonate with the drama and otherworldly awe we innately associate with space travel.
Perhaps not since that day – certainly not since the first Space Shuttle Columbia soared into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981 – has the launch of a new rocket generated so much public excitement as this week’s liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
As reported by The Verge, “the live stream of the (Falcon Heavy launch) was the second biggest in YouTube’s history. The event reached over 2.3 million concurrent views on YouTube.”
You can watch coverage of the launch and surrounding enthusiasm on the SpaceX site.
A new space race
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has put the race back into space.
“I think it’s going to open up a sense of possibility,” Musk said shortly after the February 6 launch. “We want a new space race. Space races are exciting.” (Business Insider)
Over the past few decades the world has largely taken space for granted. Perhaps this is inevitable, as the work of communications satellites has become woven into the cloth of our daily lives. Perhaps it’s a cynical (and just as inevitable) reaction to the years of overpromise and under-delivery by various “space tourism” operations (Techworld).
Now, space is back, baby. And if you don’t think it’s sexy to say so, then Musk has a cherry-red Tesla Roadster currently flying through space with Bowie jamming on the sound system and a copy of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the glove box just in case you get bored looking out the window.
In the hours after launch you could have a live look at the Tesla and its mannequin “Starman” driver at the SpaceX site.
Musk understands the thrill many of us got watching those first Space Shuttle landings, flanked by chase planes, broadcast on TV – Columbia’s maiden touchdown on April 14, 1981, drew 225,000 cheering spectators to Edwards Air Force Base in California, overwhelming the base’s police and facilities. (Los Angeles Times)
He gets why my colleague Peter, growing up in New Zealand, and millions around the world, used to stay up until all hours watching grainy broadcasts of Project Mercury and Apollo takeoffs, then held their hands in front of their mouths or clung to the shoulders of family and neighbors while watching the 1969 moon landing, then stood in their lawns or in fields at night scanning the heavens for a glimpse of a shiny Spacelab zooming by.
We want to know what you think of the possibility of a new space race.
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• Are efforts by Musk, Jeff Bezos, and other private entrepreneurs to wrest control of space travel away from massive government concerns the future of space exploration? Or will they be limited in scope?
• How does the launch of the Falcon Heavy compare with previous space-travel milestones, such as Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to travel into space in 1961 and NASA’s Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle projects?
• Is the inclusion of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster (with Bowie and Douglas Adams figuratively aboard) a gimmick or does it have a larger meaning or purpose?
• If Falcon Heavy has indeed kicked off a “new space race,” who are the competitors and what will the race look like?
• SpaceX has said it hopes that expanding cargo capacity and delivering large payloads – part of the Falcon Heavy test – might one day help sustain life on other planets. What is the time-horizon for such plans?
• Who can you interview for this story?
• How will SpaceX’s decision to not have the falcon heavy human-rated effect the future of SpaceX?