Enter the Dragon
Buzz Aldrin's novel THE RETURN prophetically began with a fatal accident aboard Shuttle Columbia. With NASA grounded by legal trouble, private enterprise steps into the void. The Shuttles will be grounded by the end of 2010, leaving a gap in US spaceflight. The gap may be filled by SpaceX's Dragon.
With the usual delays in NASA programmes, Orion may not fly until 2015 or later. Relying on Russian spacecraft to resupply ISS makes people uneasy. Who knows how much Russia will charge for gas? Concern about the "gap" led Representative Curt Weldon of Florida to propose flying the Shuttles until Orion is ready. An editorial in the wall Street Journal Asia makes a similiar proposal. This would cost at least 10 billion more, unlikely in today's budget.
Hello Rudy and others: Your strategy depends on getting as many Florida votes as possible on January 29. Space exploration is very, very popular in Florida. Now is the time to announce a Space policy. You can put your personal stamp on the Vision by adding a crewed mission to an asteroid. Like the movie ARMAGEDDON, this would be a big hit with the public.
NASA's COTS programme would subsidise private vehicles to ferry crews and cargo to ISS. Spaceflight is a risky proposition, unattractive to investors. Rocketplane Kistler failed to raise enough private capital. To make a small fortune in Space, it helps to start with a big fortune. With RPK out of the competition, the leader is Elon Musk's SpaceX.
The first flight of Falcon 1 in 2006 ended after 30 seconds. The second flight also failed to reach orbit, but achieved 90% of its design goals. A third flight, hopefully to reach orbit, will occur in 2008. SpaceX claims they are on track to fly Falcon 9 to ISS by the end of 2009, just in time to fill the gap. The Dragon spacecraft atop Falcon 9 would enable cargo and crews to reach ISS on an American vehicle. If Elon Musk captures the market for spaceflight, NASA can send him the reward via Paypal.