Back to space

The privately-funded SpaceX mission not only marks America’s return to manned space flight but is much more

A comment on Twitter read, “2020 in the US resembled 1968.” A statement by aviation journalist Jon Ostrower has a historical context to it. For those of us in India, it is worth recalling that in the late 1960s, as the US reached for the moon, race riots and civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King reached a crescendo. Similarly, protests following the “effective” murder of an unarmed Black man George Floyd, just as America launched its first manned mission to space after almost a decade, is a telling commentary on the US: The world’s only superpower can climb the greatest heights and plumb the lowest lows all at once. However, one must not lose sight of the tremendous achievement of the SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS) undertaken by astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. For one, while funded in part by the US’ space agency, NASA, the rocket that carried the astronauts to space, the Falcon 9, the Dragon capsule and even the spacesuits the astronauts wore, were all developed by the Elon Musk-promoted SpaceX. Musk, who also founded electric carmaker Tesla, is a divisive figure for many but only the most petulant will deny that he is a technology visionary. Developing a commercially-viable space launch system from scratch and now using it to launch astronauts from American soil, he has done something that was previously unthinkable. A private, commercial organisation without Government support, funded by Musk’s billions among other investors in a sector previously dominated by Government money across the world, he has proven, like he himself with electric cars, that change is possible.

This acquires even more significance as India, too, is opening up its space sector for commercial opportunities. Of course, we might not be able to find a man like Musk but even small private sector development, starting with a satellite that can use existing technology from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), can drive India’s space industry. Musk’s development with SpaceX alongside the work by fellow American billionaire Jeff Bezos with his “Blue Origin” has created large volumes of research as well as high-tech jobs across the US. India can emulate this and create jobs for legions of its best and brightest engineers, many of who emigrated to the US to work with the likes of Musk and Bezos as well as the larger aerospace and space industries. Arguing that opportunities exist and allowing industry access is not, however, the be-all and end-all of policy. The Indian Government, ISRO and private Indian industry will have to walk the talk if we want to emulate Musk.

Source: The Pioneer