NASA, the new space race: a “low cost” missile and the hand of private individuals

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A very thin missile, only two astronauts, the return to the conical space capsules after the era of the big Shuttles, the last of which, Atlantis, retired in 2011. For the young, this first American spaceship with men on board after 9 years of fasting may seem like a return, more than to the era of the Apollo program for which they were used the giant Saturn missiles, a reissue of the Gemini two-seater space capsules from the early 1960s. Actually the race to space Third millennium that lives with today’s launch (except for postponements due to weather problems) one of its key moments, has totally different characteristics from the US-USSR head to head of half a century ago.

Then the prestige and military capacity of the two leaders of the free world and the Soviet bloc were at stake: States directly challenged each other through public space agencies which, animated mainly by German scientists who ended up in the US or remained in Eastern Europe after the end of the Second World War, had grown up in the wake of Nazi Germany’s missile technology. Today’s business is deeply different and very significant from at least two points of view. On a political level it marks the return of the USA after a long eclipse, with the humiliation of American astronauts forced to use Russian Soyuz to reach the International Space Station.

For this reason today to attend the launch Donald Trump will also be there: determined to play the card of American supremacy even outside the Earth’s atmosphere in an electoral key – all of overshadow the coronavirus – but, to tell the truth, he has been insisting on the space challenge for a couple of years. First he asked NASA to bring a woman back a man on the moon by 2024 (when he expects to end his second term), then he gave the signal of a renewed commitment in the military field, also to contain the growth of the Chinese space power, now capable of shooting down any satellite with its missiles. For this established the Space Force: an autonomous armed force for space alongside the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Then there are i profound technological and economic changes in the business space (we even get to fashion, with the new space suits designed by a great Hollywood costume designer). Just watch today’s launch. The small missile is not synonymous with a modest enterprise: test the ability of an innovative entrepreneur like Elon Musk to build lighter spaceships and reusable missiles reducing by nine tenths the cost of a space company which, therefore, now within the reach of many: a low cost space that opens up to research, to the exploration of asteroids rich in rare minerals, to the environmental monitoring, to space tourism (first tourist around the Moon in 2023).

Led by Musk – visionary of great technical ability, but also hard capitalist who produces missiles and spaceships at unbeatable costs also for the frenzied rhythms that imposes in the factory and antitrust warrior who broke the duopoly of the giants Boeing and Lockheed – the new season of private space will also see the Blue Origin of Jeff Bezos, the Virgin Galactic by Richard Branson (in trouble after some failed experiment) and others financed by venture capital of Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, Space Angels, Cosmi Capital. The next months will be intense: four missions only to Mars (with robots and jeeps that will run around and dig) launched by Americans, Chinese and the European Union with the missile aid of Russia. There is even a program conceived and financed by the Emirates, based on a Japanese missile, while the rover that will land and go around on the Martian surface built by an American company in Colorado.

May 26, 2020 (change May 26, 2020 | 10:21 pm)

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