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Here be crewed dragons

By DOM GALEON

Space X launch on May 30, aired on television (Photo by NASA)

SpaceX Crew Dragon launch on May 30, aired on television (Photo by NASA)

I used to write about Elon Musk a lot. And by a lot, I mean at least one article about him every day. This was back when I used to work for another media outlet, an online science magazine based in Brooklyn, New York.

I even went as far as buying a biography about this eccentric billionaire, written by Ashlee Vance. What I learned from reading about his life is that Elon is, in many ways, good and bad, truly like a real-life Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr., in fact, trailed Elon for weeks before the filming of the first Iron Man film.

Anyway, so Elon has recently been making headlines again, after his space company (not his only company) successfully launched its first manned flight to space over the weekend.

Iron Man GIF by Morphin - Find & Share on GIPHY

The news was a welcome respite from everything Covid. It was definitely a much needed morale boost for humankind, plagued with a virus from Wuhan and the virus of racism from America.

But what does a successful SpaceX Crew Dragon launch really mean for us, particularly for us Filipinos who live an ocean away from the US and miles away from space?

It’s definitely difficult to see any immediate effect of this development to us Pinoys, but perhaps a more global perspective—or rather a more universal outlook—might make things a little bit less gloomy.

If we drive down the cost of transportation in space, we can do great things.—Elon Musk

You see, for decades now, humanity has been working unceasingly to get to space, and we have been fascinated with the great beyond for centuries, in fact. This “final frontier,” as Star Trek has wonderfully put it, has become a symbol of humankind’s increasing capacity for innovation, while at the same time serving as a firm reminder of how small we are in the larger scheme of things.

Space makes us look up—literally, but also figuratively, in the sense that it always reminds us that there’s more to life, more to the universe beyond the worries and concerns that regularly bug us human beings.

So when Robert Behnken and Dougles Hurley were hurled into space aboard the Crew Dragon, the manned version of SpaceX’s space shuttles, which lift off on top of a Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 31, it was truly a cause célèbre.
Not only was it the first time since 2011 that US astronauts were launched into space from US soil, instead of being transported via Soyuz rockets from Russia, it was also the first time a private company put people in space. That second point is the main reason why even us Filipinos should celebrate this accomplishment.

Hurray for SpaceX, sure, but more hurray for human ingenuity and the new potential for space tourism. Yes, tourism. The partnership that made this occasion possible has been going on for a decade now. NASA, in the hopes of turning the modern space race into a capitalist venture, has partnered with SpaceX and Boeing for a project to bring astronauts to space. Instead of monopolizing this billion dollar effort, the American space agency opened it up to private corporations. Less risks but more gains for NASA.

This successful launch of a crewed Dragon is also a huge breakthrough for SpaceX’s plans to go to Mars. This ultimate and most literal form of escapism from our mundane realities, undoubtedly is still difficult to grasp: Humans traveling to Mars, that huge chump of red rock floating in space some 151 kilometers away from our little blue planet, which means traveling there would take at least  260 days or nine months, according to some estimates. That’s a really long flight, even on first class accommodations. Will it ever be truly possible?

The Blue Marble, one of the most iconic photos of the earth from space, taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 in 1972

The Blue Marble, one of the most iconic photos of the earth from space, taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 in 1972

But going back to my point about space tourism, it’s also more gains for humanity. It will take perhaps at least another decade before space tourism becomes a regular gig, but the doors to it—or the lunch pad for it—has finally been opened. Pretty soon, there will be private trips to view the world from above, to travel in near space to see the moon, the stars, the galaxy, the universe in a way that many of us have never seen before. And just like how air travel started as a thing accessible only to the wealthy, it’s very possible that near-space travel and tourism could eventually turn into a market for low-cost flights.

Maybe this is just the futurist in me because all of that still sound like science fiction. But if there is one thing we’ve learned from years of sci-fi and actual science exploration, there is nothing stopping human ingenuity from turning today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s science.

From here on, there be crewed dragons.

The phrase hic sunt dracones, Latin for ‘here be dragons,’ appeared on the 1504 Hunt-Lenox Globe, the second-oldest (or third-oldest, depending on sources) terrestrial globe ever made. It was used to denote unexplored parts of the word—well, unexplored by the West, that is. 


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/01/here-be-crewed-dragons-2/)

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