IN A span of just about three months, the race to space has never been more exciting and phenomenal. The year 2021, albeit the bad hits in the global economy and health index as consequences of the pandemic, still became the year when private citizens have reached the edge of the space.
In April, the four Space X Crew 2 members were successfully transported to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The said operational spaceflight is the second mission in the Commercial Crew Program, which is the human spaceflight program operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, in association with American aerospace manufacturers Boeing and SpaceX. The latter company was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 "with the goal of reducing transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars."
SpaceX has been at the forefront of the space race being the first private company to launch Falcon 1, a liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit in 2008. It is also the first private company to "successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012), the first vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), and the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station (SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 in 2020). SpaceX has flown and reflown the Falcon 9 series of rockets over one hundred times."
On July 11, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson on the other hand became the first person to travel to space aboard SpaceShipTwo, a winged plane with a single rocket motor built by his company. Branson was accompanied by three Virgin Galactic crewmembers as they launched and reached the edge of space. As Branson floated inside his space plane, he recorded this message: "To all you kids out there — I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship...If we can do this, just imagine what you can do," he said.
A week after Sir Branson recorded his lifelong dream of being able to travel into space, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos also made history as Bezos rode his own rocket name Blue Origin's New Shepard on July 20 for a 10-minute "up-and-down flight, a high-tech joyride that sets the stage for the start of commercial passenger service later this year." Bezos was accompanied by his brother Mark, and two history-making passengers: 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, the oldest person to fly in space, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student who is the youngest ever to fly in space. It may be recalled that Funk was not allowed to go to space because of NASA's initially all-male astronaut corps in the 1960s.
It is known that a ride to space costs a lot of money for anyone who wishes to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But this so-called competition to explore the space was just a vision decades ago. Now, it is not only NASA astronauts or space scientists who are able to launch into the space, but private citizens are now given this luxurious chance to view the Earth from the space. As I have written in a previous column, these new milestones have sparked my interest in space aviation -- a dream I dreamt a little too late.