It’s getting pretty busy on the Space Coast of Florida these days. More than 50 rockets are projected to launch this year alone; pretty astounding considering it’s been nearly a decade since NASA’s final Space Shuttle voyage. After such a long lull, why all the zoomies now?
In 1969, about a month prior to the lovefest music jam known as Woodstock, Apollo 11 landed men on the moon for the first time, securing the US the top spot in the global space race. The manned lunar landings continued only for a couple of years, ending in 1972, just a few months shy of burglars breaking into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.
It was almost another decade before NASA rocketed the first Space Shuttle into the cosmos. And another five until the Soviets sent the largest artificial satellite ever built, Space Station Mir, to operate in low Earth orbit from 1986 until just before the airplanes hit the Twin Towers in 2001.
Then came 2011 and NASA’s final space shuttle launch. After 31 years as the crown jewel of America’s space program, space shuttle Atlantis marked the end of an illustrious, sometimes disastrous, era of US-led space exploration.
2020 alone saw more than 100 successful space launches, including three missions to Mars. And it wasn’t just Cold War Superpowers popping rockets this time. These orbital launches originated in places like the UK, France, India, Iran, South Korea, Japan, China, and even Guatemala. That’s right, the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala launched Quetzal-1, a proof-of-concept tech demo, to orbit low Earth.
Which leads us to the reason we are seeing so many launches.
By no means am I suggesting Guatemala is poised to be a big player in the 21st century space race, but the mere fact that a (pardon the phrase) third world country even makes an appearance on the global space exploration stage speaks volumes on how the relative cost to launch a rocket has plummeted.
In large part, you can thank the ubiquitous Elon Musk and his company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, for dramatically helping drive down launch costs. While there are other big players in the privatized space game like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, it is Musk’s SpaceX that has been relentless in its endeavor to lower launch costs. Just last year, SpaceX for the first time flew a crewed mission employing reusable rocket boosters, decreasing launch costs dramatically. This and other cost-saving innovations are expected to continue to profoundly expand space exploration.
It is reported that SpaceX has even made a deal with a Japanese billionaire to fly him and his entourage around the moon in the next few years. And Blue Origin just tested their space tourism rocket and, pandemic permitting, plan to send travelers into space as early as this year, assumedly wearing N95 respirators.
It is probably obvious how jazzed I get about space exploration. I even recently opened a second office of Ravdal Inc. on the Space Coast of Florida, in large part to be surrounded by all the exciting astronautic action. But I think the underlying wireframe to my love and passion for space travel is the fact that nearly every technical innovation we take for granted today is a byproduct of our illustrious foray into space over the last 50 years.
NASA Spinoff technologies, as the name implies, are widely available commercial products and services that, but not for our Nation’s fascination with space exploration, simply would not exist.
Believe it or not, LASIK laser resurfacing and cochlear implants are byproducts of NASA technology. As are aircraft de-icing systems and concrete safety grooving. Pollution remediation, water location technology, enriched baby food, freeze dried food preservation, food safety protocols, and even that Bowflex exercise machine being hocked on late night television.
Then there is all the groundwork for virtually every piece of technology we use today. Without satellite technology, we would not have the internet as we know it today and even agricultural output would be dramatically affected. How smart would smart phones really be? No GPS, local weather, maps, television, credit card payments, flight tracking. Rural parts of the world would be much less connected than they are today, and our pandemic induced Work from Home business paradigm would be nearly impossible.
So think about this. If virtually every sector and every industry in the world today have been positively affected by the innovations that trickled down from the US-Russia space race, what will the payoff to society be with an exponentially larger, more diverse brain trust able to innovate at a lower cost? The mind reels at the possibilities and potential.
I would like to believe that throughout the best and worst times in our country’s recent history, even when things look pretty grim from the ground, it has always been our eagerness to keep reaching for the stars that most defines us.
I will always be inspired by space exploration.
Stig Ravdal is the President & Founder of Ravdal, Inc., a leading cybersecurity company. He is an expert in the fields of cybersecurity strategy and technology solutions, and is available for speaking engagements.