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The Falcons of Musk’s SpaceX
This is part 3 of our 3 article series on Elon Musk. Part 1 covered the early stages of Musk’s life while part 2 explored his incredible plans and struggles to make the world a better place. In this article, we delve into the Falcons of SpaceX and Musk’s plan to colonize Mars.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor”- Elon Musk, South African-born American business magnate, engineer, and investor.
Elon Musk has always defied the odds, especially when he took command of the cyberspace with Zip2 and PayPal. His aspirations grew even larger after that, and he moved from the cyberspace to outer space. His reason for choosing the space industry is similar to his reason for choosing the financial industry in 1999: a lack of innovation in these areas. After checking The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) website, Elon realized that the organization had no major plans to explore Mars and outer space. This motivated him to start delving into space exploration by starting his own company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or SpaceX in 2002. It wasn’t, and still isn’t common, for a private company to invest in the space industry as the price of rockets, and the associated risks, can be very exorbitant. However, Elon while conscious of the unfavorable odds, remained undeterred in his resolve. Committed to accomplishing his goals, he funded the entire operation, giving birth to SpaceX.
Of the Falcons’ past:
Dreams of a Martian Oasis
Elon’s original plan was to get people excited about a mission to Mars, by creating an oasis on the planet. To accomplish this, he planned to send a small greenhouse with seasoned, dehydrated nutrients to Mars. Hydration of the gel on landing would have succeeded in creating a greenhouse, which would establish life on Mars. He also wanted to develop a green patch on the planet, but the high cost of rockets made this futile.
When Elon decided to invest in SpaceX, he had no expectations and acknowledged the grim chances of the company’s survival.
SpaceX, with its grim chances of surviving, defied all the odds; today, it is known for two successful spacecraft families: The Dragon Capsule and The Falcon Rocket Family. The Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft that made history in 2012, when it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth. The first member of the Falcon rocket family, Falcon 1, after three failed attempts, became the first privately funded liquid rocket to successfully go into orbit around the Earth. The second member, Falcon 9, is a two-stage rocket for the transport of satellites and Dragon spacecraft into orbit; the rocket was successful on its first attempt. The latest member of the Falcon Rocket Family is the Falcon Heavy, which is known as the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
Although not yet tested, all the SpaceX spacecraft aim to fulfil Elon’s original plans of transporting humans to space.
The flight of Falcon Heavy:
The Latest Falcon
The Falcon Heavy is a 2-stage rocket designed to carry twice the highest payload capacity currently possible for a contemporary rocket, with the aim of transporting people to Mars. The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) witnessed the success of the first-ever trial flight of the Falcon Heavy on February 6, 2018. A live stream of the launch enabled people from all across the world to witness the historical event, which involved the launch of a dummy payload in the form of a Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin driver named ‘Starman’.
Yesterday’s Experience = Today’s Success
The launch attempted to show several features of the latest SpaceX rocket:
- a synchronized upright landing of the two boosters from the first-stage of the rocket,
- landing of the core stage on a designated drone, and
- setting the dummy payload of a mannequin-driven Tesla Roadster into an orbit around the sun.
Out of these main missions, the Falcon Heavy failed in achieving the touchdown of the core stage on the designated drone. The successful launch of the Falcon Heavy can, in part, be attributed to SpaceX’s experience with Falcon 9. Each of the three engine cores — that from the first stage of the Falcon Heavy — is similar to the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.
The impressive design and capabilities are featured on the SpaceX website, along with a comparison of payloads deliverable with other rockets.
Although Elon targeted the space industry due to a lack of innovation in the area, his main aim was to make humans a ‘multiplanetary species’. This is highly influenced by a book he read in his childhood: ‘Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series’. This book predicts that unless humankind goes beyond earth, it will eventually become extinct. Elon’s need to make humans a ‘multiplanetary species’ is highlighted in SpaceX’s main objectives:
- Reusability of spacecrafts: SpaceX made history last year by achieving the world’s first reflight of an orbital class rocket;
- Commercial crew: This will be achieved by taking America’s astronauts to space;
- Enabling humans to become multiplanetary: Elon expects that when the cost of moving to Mars roughly equals the net worth of a middle-class person in America, they would be encouraged to sell their belongings and move to Mars permanently.
Towards colonizing Mars
In a recent interview, Musk has revealed the on-going development of the Falcon Heavy’s successor, referred to as BFR (Big F***ing Rocket). In principle, this new system would be capable of landing anywhere in the solar system, and it is expected to fulfil the ultimate aim of transporting people to Mars. The BFR is being developed to continue the tasks that were carried out by its predecessors, with a design that could transport over 100 passengers to the planet. Two unmanned test missions are expected to take place in 2022 to confirm the workability of the planned manned missions.
Elon has consistently defied all the odds; he has broken down barriers and made history with the success of The Dragon Capsule and The Falcon Rocket Family. He has proven to the world that he can accomplish what many deem as impossible. With his dedication and desire for greatness, it might only be a couple of years before the first colony on Mars is established!
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Rebecca is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lille-1, France. Prior to this, she completed her Ph.D. at the French Atomic Energy Commision (C.E.A., Saclay), integrated Master's degree in Nuclear Science and technology at the University of Delhi, India in collaboration with the University of Paris-Sud and Bachelor's in Science degree at St. Stephen's College, Delhi. When not studying the properties of irradiation-induced defects in metals, she enjoys reading up on the latest advances in Science.