From Newton To SpaceX

This week we saw another SpaceX launch, this time delivering the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. As we’ve become accustomed to, it was another flawless launch and awe-inspiring to see. Whenever I watch these events I find myself holding my breath as the rocket soars up into the sky, the thunder of the engines seems to hit me  right in the chest like the roar of a primal monster escaping its gravitational cage.

Each time I think to myself, one step closer to more routine, affordable space access, one step closer to a real space tourism industry, space hotels, Mars and beyond. I hope it will happen in my lifetime. I hope I’ll one day be one of the people who is able to leave this tiny planet and look back at the cradle of life we call Earth. This is something I’ve dreamed of ever since watching Neil Armstrong, walk on the Moon back when I was six years old.

That this launch takes place just a few days after Earth Day seems to make it somehow more symbiotic, more important, more significant. Down here on Earth we still face countless problems; war, terrorism, mal-distribution of water, food and wealth, disenfranchisement and bigotry, to name just a few… but space offers humanity the chance to start afresh, to leave all of that behind and create a future where everyone is truly equal.

The first space-tourist was Denis Tito, a businessman from California who flew aboard a Russian Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft. He spent several days aboard the International Space Station before returning. This week marks the fourteenth anniversary of that event.

Before that, in 1997, this week saw the first joint U.S. – Russian space walk. When Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Mir space station and Jerry Linenger and Vasily Tsibliyev carrying out a five hour EVA operation to attach a scientific instrument to the outside of Mir. All this showed how people from all sides are capable of working together successfully – if they really want to.

Finally, this week is also the anniversary of Isaac Newton’s  “Principia Mathamatic”. Three hundred and twenty nine years ago, Newton laid down all the fundamental mathematical principles including gravity, orbital and celestial mechanics – all the fundamentals necessary to allow us to send vehicles into space and start the process that led us to the point we are today.

Three hundred years might seem a long time from a human perspective. At the time Newton was working on the “Principea,” the United States was still a hundred years from being born. Yet from a historical perspective three-hundred years is the blink of an eye.

Technological progress is moving ever faster, but we need social progress to keep up with the pace of change. If it doesn’t we will lose not only the dream of space, but the Earth itself.

I used to dream
I used to glance beyond the stars
Now I don’t know where we are
Although I know we’ve drifted far.

— Michael Jackson


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