Redefining Space Exploration with the Crew Dragon - Angela Gupta
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
On Saturday May 30th at 3:22am SGT, the Crew Dragon capsule, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida: a historic site signifying human achievement. This event was special not only because it was the first time that astronauts reached the International Space Station (ISS) with a commercial spacecraft from a private company, it was also the first launch from American soil in 9 years, marking the return of spaceflight to the US. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA has been sending their astronauts to the ISS with the Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Kazakhstan. This might come as a surprise because of the political tension between Russia and the US, but they maintain a good working relationship when it comes to the ISS due to their codependency - a testament to the uniting powers of space exploration. The success of this Demo-2 mission will open up the window for future missions to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The reusability of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket saves around $46.6 million per mission, allowing us to fund even more ambitious projects, such as space tourism and building bases on the moon and Mars.
Although I was curled up in bed and watching the launch alone from the other side of the world, I gripped onto the edge of my blanket as the hairs on my arm stood up and a tangled mix of emotions surged through me. There was just one rocket and two astronauts before my eyes, but I saw an entire history of scientific innovation and technology and the dedication from millions of people – all of which made this possible today.
Watching it behind a screen added to the whole movie-like sci-fi-esque feel; there was an odd sense of detachment because it looked so futuristic - to the extent where I had to keep consciously reminding myself that it was actually happening in real time. In hindsight, this is bizarre considering how we put the first human in orbit back in 1961 and have been continually sending astronauts to the ISS since 2000. Perhaps this futuristic perception of space exploration is precisely what constitutes its timeless allure.
Nevertheless, this launch seemed set apart by its ultramodern 21st-century appeal. The Crew Dragon capsule was more than just functional, the touchscreens on the inside could not be more different from the analogue buttons and dials in the old space shuttle. The black-and-white aesthetic of the capsule’s stunning interior matched the astronauts’ sleek spacesuits (that were considerably thinner than the traditional bulky one). Elon Musk said that he actually spent a lot of time and effort to make the spacesuits look more aesthetic, because he wanted to attract a larger audience, specifically children. As superficial as this may seem, it is important because children don’t understand the details of the event, but will still feel the emotions evoked from visual appeal. It is essential that children are fascinated, that they point at it and dream to be in the shoes of the astronaut – in the same way that they fantasise about wearing Superman’s cape and Captain America’s shield. After all, the future of the space industry lies in the hands of the younger generation.
This launch is just one of many, but it brings us one step closer towards answering the most fundamental questions about life and the universe, as well as solidifying the once intangible vision of becoming a spacefaring and multi-planetary civilisation.
I am excited by the idea of this, but I know that the long-term vision of preserving humanity can sometimes feel too obscurely distant to be a motivating factor for everyone. Many people think “space exploration is cool but the money is better spent elsewhere”. However, what people often fail to realise is that the time and money invested in developing space technology also allows us to tackle the problems we face here on Earth. We would not have velcro, solar cells, accurate weather predictions, or a GPS system if it weren’t for the space industry. Moreover, the
ISS is an orbiting laboratory conducting hundreds of experiments ranging from medical research and biotechnology to physical and Earth sciences. Pursuing larger goals reap shorter-term benefits along the way.
It may seem like the most inappropriate time to be celebrating a launch. Here the world
is, physically and emotionally torn apart by a global pandemic and civil rights injustices. Yet, I would argue that there has never been a better time. When I saw the number of live viewers mount up to 10 million, I realised that people need the reminder of the good that humanity is capable of achieving, a reason to stand up together and applaud, a source of inspiration amidst the gloom. In fact, this isn’t the first time that there has been a manned mission during a state of turmoil in the US: on 20th July 1969 in the thick of the Cold War, Vietnam War, civil rights violations and protests, people from all over the world stopped. Take a moment to imagine what they felt as Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. Although most of us didn’t personally contribute, we still feel a sense of pride nonetheless – this sense of pride is unique because it is unifying.
The feat of human achievement is blind to geopolitical borders and celebrates us all - regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion. Achievements in space flight have shaped some of the most beautiful moments in human history because it is an embodiment of the spirit of exploration that lives in us all. We have been doing this from the dawn of time, each time just venturing out a bit farther. Whether it be stepping out from the cave or crossing the sea or flying to the moon, the fundamental curiosity, courage, and compulsion to explore does not change. We keep the flame of exploration burning, because amongst the uncertainties that are inherent in exploration, there always lies hope.
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