This weekend Elon Musk and his SpaceX company are scheduled to launch another of their reusable 12-story rockets. It’s an accomplishment that paves the way for much cheaper space flight and possibly launch us toward a manned mission to Mars. This is much like the Wright brothers who, at Kitty Hawk in December of 1903, successfully made their historic flight which catapulted us into the thrilling age of aviation.
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, wanted to fly soon after they began to walk. Credit their father, Milton, who in 1878 brought his young sons a rubber band powered toy helicopter designed by a French aeronautical experimenter. The two boys played with the toy until it broke. As adults they founded a bicycle company. Once it was successful they returned to their passion for getting a vehicle in the air in the hopes it would fly under it’s own power. History, of course, records they were eventually successful on December 17, 1903. The parallels to the SpaceX program are eerily similar.
Elon Musk founded a car company, Tesla Motors, which helps fund his SpaceX program. Just as people back in the early 1900s were curious about the doings of the Wright brothers, many now wonder why a reusable space rocket is so important. Slate reporter, Phil Plait, best explains the ‘how’:
They took a 12-story rocket weighing 20,000 kilograms moving at 6000 kph, slowed it, stopped it, turned it around, let it fall nearly 200 km to the ground, reignited the engines, had it follow a descent path, automatically correcting its orientation and attitude, until it landed within a few meters of the pre-chosen spot. (complete article here)
This successful landing occurred on December 21st, 2015 – three days from the anniversary of Orville and Wilbur’s first flight. The ‘why’ is simple. Being able to reuse a rocket saves copious amounts of cash. Elon Musk says the rocket itself costs $60 million, but the rocket fuel to power it costs just $200,000. Savings like that can easily spur more space exploration.
SpaceX is not alone in testing reusable rockets. Several new space pioneers, including Jeff Bebos and his Blue Origins endeavor, are testing their own machines.
Here at the museum we have many aircraft that represent aviation’s infancy and it’s success. So, of course, we’re excited to see what these new pioneers do as they continue to build on what Orville and Wilbur began in 1903.