No small step

There’s something extremely cool about Elon Musk. I mean cool in the “Right Stuff” sense, cool the way the first astronaut, Alan Shepard, was cool: “I’m a hell of a lot cooler than you guys. Why don’t you just fix your little problem and light this candle?”

Musk is the brainy entrepreneur behind SpaceX, the commercial firm that launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station in the wee hours this morning. The launch was the second attempt, coming after an effort last weekend that was aborted when sensors detected a temperature spike. Musk and his people took the setback in stride, and said, in effect: O.K., no big deal. We’ll try again on Tuesday.

SpaceX is developing a reputation for quickly fixing problems that might have bogged down NASA for months. I’m not sure that’s fair to NASA, which does, after all, improvise quickly and brilliantly from time to time. But it’s fascinating to see a nimble private enterprise function in such a high-stakes environment, doing what only governments could once do – and not many of them, at that.

(Disclosure: An in-law of mine works for SpaceX. I have zero understanding of what he does, but I regard the work with enthusiasm, envy and a touch of awe. As he does, I’m sure, my work in public radio.)

The mission to ISS is intended as a demonstration. Each step of the way, the spacecraft will have to prove itself before it proceeds to the next level. If the Dragon vehicle actually docks with the space station, that will mean everything has gone superbly well – and SpaceX will be that much closer to flying a human crew into space, which it intends to do in the next few years.

Jon Stewart did an interview with Musk a few weeks ago.

— Eric Ringham

  • Tyler

    You neglected to mention that the previous launch was scrubbed half a second before liftoff. Also, Elon Musk (founder of Paypal) also owns Tesla Motors, one of the innovators in the electric car market.