Expectations ran high last weekend with the Falcon9 rocket carrying the Dragon space capsule all ready for liftoff. But, alas, the launch was scrubbed — literally at the last moment — half a second before ignition. So close was the cutoff that the narrator reported the liftoff at the proper moment in the countdown before realizing that the launch had been aborted.
Human error had nothing to do with it, or even overly cautious management — this launch was scrubbed by a computer! One of the rocket’s pressure gauges went into the red, and the event triggered an automatic shutdown — faster than any human reaction time could have possibly done it.
And luckily, the rocket and capsule were thus spared from what might have been a major catastrophe right there on the pad or shortly after liftoff.
What a bummer, though, right?
Since then a faulty valve in a fuel line has been replaced and the whole kit’n’kaboodle is once more ready to give a shot (pun fully intended) in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, so by the time you read this — well, either the capsule will be zipping around the Earth, or it’s still sitting on the launch pad, or it’s been blown to smithereens somewhere in between.
But as the saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!
And this isn’t any old launch we’re talking about, either. The Falcon9 rocket would carry the Dragon spacecraft on the first commercial cargo trip to the International Space Station. So this is a big deal. With budget cuts everywhere and little money for new spacecraft development, the Space Shuttles having been gutted for displays at museums and no new manned spaceflight options in the near future, American space crews still have to rely on the Russians to launch them into space and ferry them to the orbiting outpost.
Granted, spaceflight is never cheap, even “in house,” but wouldn’t you rather spend all that cash on domestic businesses rather than writing a big fat check to Russia?
Where no government options are available, NASA has to rely on the private sector to make American manned space flight a reality once again. And if the Dragon succeeds, we are all one step closer to the re-birth of that dream. Because — if one company can do it, well, darn tootin’, others can — and will — too. And where there’s healthy commercial competition, prices will fall.
Ultimately, that’s what everyone hopes for. So keep your fingers and toes firmly crossed that the Dragon will make it!
For now, the capsule will not even dock on its own — the astronauts will grab it with the robotic arm and guide it to a manual docking. Eventually this will all be an automated process, like with all the other spacecraft and unmanned cargo vessels that knock on the door of the ISS, so to speak.
But it’s an exciting venture nonetheless. Go, Dragon, go!
Learn more about Falcon9 and the Dragon capsule here: http://en.wikipedia
Beate Czogalla is the professor of theater design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a solar system ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA for many years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.