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SpaceX given the go-ahead for the May 19 flight

May 15, 2012

The Gods of NASA have given SpaceX the appropriate blessing for a launch on Saturday morning, at 4:55 AM Eastern. This is the flight I had hoped to see while I was in Florida. I had to settle for an Atlas 5 launch, watching it from Orlando. Bettern’ nothin’. The launch window is about one second long, so there can’t be any holds or it won’t launch that day.

This flight, if everything works properly, will be a Very Big Deal. A commercially-developed launch vehicle will be launched and the Dragon capsule will, under ground control, fly into position with the ISS so the mechanical arm can snag it and dock it.

OK, so technically, everything ever built and launched in the US was commercially-developed, from United Launch Alliance building the Atlas 5 to Chrysler building the Saturn V back in the day. And SpaceX has received some funding from NASA, kind of as “seed money.” Think of NASA as a venture capital firm, if you will – and don’t start with me on Solyndra being the same situation – that was Crony Capitalism with a big fracking capital C. The big deal is that NASA scientists didn’t design any of this. SpaceX even designed their own rocket engines from a clean sheet of paper.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s not as if the engineers at SpaceX didn’t have access to years and years of research and development that is openly available. I think they managed to snag some engineering staff that used to work at NASA. Still, the only governmental involvement has been looking over SpaceX’s shoulder and approving stuff they have the authority to approve. The Falcon 9 is launching from a government-owned launch facility, and there are a bunch of regulations that need to be followed to throw a giant metal and composite tube full of high explosives into the sky over US soil.

Anyway, I dearly hope this flight is successful. If it’s not, it doesn’t mean the end of SpaceX or of commercial space flight, no matter what the pundits say. It’s one test within a test regimen. There will be many more. But SpaceX seems pretty confident. They are combining two test flights into one to save some development time, and I expect, some money.

Even asleep, my fingers will be crossed Saturday morning!

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