America runs back to space. With private individuals, towards the Moon and Mars


Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two astronauts ready to leave for the first mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon, will arrive at the launch pad aboard a Tesla Model X. It will be a show, as when, for the inaugural flight of the beast Falcon Heavy, the founder of Paypal sent a roadster with a mannequin to Mars as the car radio speakers looped David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Elon Musk is ready for a new appointment with history. His Falcon 9 has soared since Thursday on the “launch pad” 39A, the same from which Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off in 1969 towards the Moon. Ready to launch on Wednesday at 22:33 Italian time (weather permitting). Saturn V, the most powerful rocket that has ever flown, stood in the same place half a century ago. And in more recent years the Space Shuttle. This time you don’t go that far, not yet. The Tesla plaque reads ISSBND (ISS Bound, “headed for the ISS”). No one had ever gotten there, taking off from American soil, since 2011, when for the last time a Shuttle landed gliding on the Cape Canaveral runway.

It will be a momentous moment, which will also be attended by President Donald Trump, who is expected together with his deputy Mike Pence at the Kennedy Space Center. America will thus regain autonomy to launch its men into space and no longer depend on the Russians and their Soyuz. And it regains momentum for a new race that will stop on our satellite within a few years.

America runs back to space. With private individuals, towards the Moon and Mars

First the moon

The first step will be to bring the first woman to the Moon in 2024. When she and her colleagues leave her footprint on the soft regulation, she will do so by descending from a private module, commissioned by NASA to one of SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics. NASA has earmarked almost a billion dollars just for the development phase of the three vehicles. The program that takes the name of Artemis, sister of Apollo, will culminate with the astronauts landing in four years (if Congress guarantees the necessary funds), to get to build a settlement. These are the general tests to understand how, (if) and when the dream of stepping on Mars can be realized.


Space X brings two US astronauts to space. The new frontier of private industry

A European service module will push the capsule towards the moon. Other cutting-edge technologies of our continent, many Italian, have served and will serve the American Space Agency to steer further and further away. Together with Europeans, Canadians and Japanese they are developing the Lunar Gateway, a new space station to be built this time around the Moon. But NASA will always be the tread. No one else has the technology and ambition to go this far. And America has the business system to make it possible.


Here are the lunar landers chosen by NASA. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics will design them

In the meantime, we will continue to explore with probes and robots. As the Chinese have been doing for some years, landed (the first and the only ones) with a rover on the hidden side of the Moon. Even more than ever in the running, but without wingmen.

Space for private individuals

Unlike how it went throughout the space age, private companies will be the means and also one of the ends of this restart. Turnkey services, a new business model that Musk has attacked and made his own. After winning NASA orders for supplies to the International Space Station, and now to bring astronauts to us, SpaceX has also secured the cargo service to transport the elements of the Lunar Gateway.


Mission Luna, NASA relies on private individuals

First Obama with an act in 2015, then Trump in April 2020 with an “executive order”, they outlined the future vision of the US out of the atmosphere: the green light for private individuals to go and do business. L’executive order Trump explicitly denies that extra atmospheric space is a common good. Without contradicting the 1967 Outer space treaty, it is an invitation, to those who will be able to, to take advantage of everything there is to discover, dig, and ultimately sell.

The intention is to let the industry find its way and see what happens. Just ten years ago, thinking about reusable rockets that take off and then return to the ground to be reused seemed like madness. Musk, less than ten years after the first freighter sent to orbit, has come to launch astronauts into space. Richard Branson is testing aviation technology to launch satellites and “space tourism”. On the shoulders of great visionaries, giant steps are being taken and the sky is not a border of genius. One day some of them might decide to invest their immense wealth to go and get what’s out there. Space mines as in Asimov’s tales, star cruises or services of any kind. And open a new market, as in the gold rush in California that gave rise to an exponential armature.

After putting its astronauts in the “hands” of a space transport company, America then reveals a precise design, devoted to freedom of enterprise. Recently, NASA published the principles for a new international treaty on the exploitation of the moon. The “Artemis accords” contain, in addition to the call for international cooperation, also a first mention of the partition of another world, with the creation of “safety zones” to “prevent interference” between nations (and national companies) operating up there.

The first step towards Mars

In July 2020, three robotic missions will take off towards the Red Planet (there must have been four, but the European Space Agency’s Exomars 2020 has been postponed for two years, also but not only because of the Coronavirus). Mars 2020 of NASA, Hope of the United Arab Emirates and the Chinese Tianwen 1. This is to exploit the favorable position of Earth and Mars, closer. No one is yet able to know when a man can get there.

A lunar colony will certainly serve to develop the technologies needed to survive millions of kilometers away for months. But taking it two steps, let’s say two or three days of travel from home. The objective declared during the Obama administration, by the president himself, is the decade of 2030. In the meantime, Elon Musk is already building the rocket to go there, his name is Starship and he is waiting for his inaugural flight shortly.

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Mario Calabresi
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