It all started with the dream of growing a rose on Mars.
That vision, Elon Musk’s vision, morphed into a shake-up of the old space industry, and a fleet of new private rockets. Now, those rockets will launch NASA astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station — the first time a for-profit company will carry astronauts into the cosmos.
It’s a milestone in the effort to commercialise space. But for Musk’s company, SpaceX, it’s also the latest milestone in a wild ride that began with epic failures and the threat of bankruptcy.
If the company’s eccentric founder and CEO has his way, this is just the beginning: He’s planning to build a city on the red planet, and live there.
“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible, make it seem as though it’s something that we can do in our lifetimes and that you can go,” Musk told a cheering congress of space professionals in Mexico in 2016.
Musk “is a revolutionary change” in the space world, says Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, whose Jonathan’s Space Report has tracked launches and failures for decades.
Ex-astronaut and former Commercial Spaceflight Federation chief Michael Lopez-Alegria says, “I think history will look back at him like a da Vinci figure.”
Musk has become best known for Tesla, his audacious effort to build an electric vehicle company. But SpaceX predates it.
At 30, Musk was already wildly rich from selling his Internet financial company PayPal and its predecessor Zip2. He arranged a series of lunches in Silicon Valley in 2001 with G Scott Hubbard, who had been NASA’s Mars czar and was then running the agency’s Ames Research Center.
Musk wanted to somehow grow a rose on the red planet, show it to the world and inspire school children, recalls Hubbard.
“His real focus was having life on Mars,” says Hubbard, a Stanford University professor who now chairs SpaceX’s crew safety advisory panel.
The big problem, Hubbard told him, was building a rocket affordable enough to go to Mars. Less than a year later Space Exploration Technologies, called SpaceX, was born.
There are many space companies and like all of them, SpaceX is designed for profit. But what’s different is that behind that profit motive is a goal, which is simply to “Get Elon to Mars,” McDowell says. “By having that longer-term vision, that’s pushed them to be more ambitious and really changed things.”
Everyone at SpaceX, from senior vice presidents to the barista who offers its in-house cappuccinos and FroYo, “will tell you they are working to make humans multi-planetary,” says former SpaceX Director of Space Operations Garrett Reisman, an ex-astronaut now at the University of Southern California.
Musk founded the company just before NASA ramped up the notion of commercial space.
Traditionally, private firms built things or provided services for NASA, which remained the boss and owned the equipment. The idea of bigger roles for private companies has been around for more than 50 years, but the market and technology weren’t yet right.
NASA’s two deadly space shuttle accidents — Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 — were pivotal, says W Henry Lambright, a professor of public policy at Syracuse University.
When Columbia disintegrated, NASA had to contemplate a post-space shuttle world. That’s where private companies came in, Lambright says.
After Columbia, the agency focused on returning astronauts to the Moon, but still had to get cargo and astronauts to the space station, says Sean O’Keefe, who was NASA’s administrator at the time. A 2005 pilot project helped private companies develop ships to bring cargo to the station.
SpaceX got some of that initial funding. The company’s first three launches failed. The company could have just as easily failed too, but NASA stuck by SpaceX and it started to pay off, Lambright says.
“You can’t explain SpaceX without really understanding how NASA really kind of nurtured it in the early days,” Lambright says. “In a way, SpaceX is kind of a child of NASA.”
Since 2010, NASA has spent $6 billion (roughly Rs. 45,586 crores) to help private companies get people into orbit, with SpaceX and Boeing the biggest recipients, says Phil McAlister, NASA’s commercial spaceflight director.
NASA plans to spend another $2.5 billion (roughly Rs. 18,984 crores) to purchase 48 astronaut seats to the space station in 12 different flights, he says. At a little more than $50 million (roughly Rs. 379 crores) a ride, it’s much cheaper than what NASA has paid Russia for flights to the station.
Starting from scratch has given SpaceX an advantage over older firms and NASA that are stuck using legacy technology and infrastructure, O’Keefe says.
And SpaceX tries to build everything itself, giving the firm more control, Reisman says. The company saves money by reusing rockets, and it has customers aside from NASA.
The California company now has 6,000 employees. Its workers are young, highly caffeinated and put in 60- to 90-hour weeks, Hubbard and Reisman say. They also embrace risk more than their NASA counterparts.
Decisions that can take a year at NASA can be made in one or two meetings at SpaceX, says Reisman, who still advises the firm.
In 2010, a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad had a cracked nozzle extension on an engine. Normally that would mean rolling the rocket off the pad and a fix that would delay launch more than a month.
But with NASA’s permission, SpaceX engineer Florence Li was hoisted into the rocket nozzle with a crane and harness. Then, using what were essentially garden shears, she “cut the thing, we launched the next day and it worked,” Reisman says.
Musk is SpaceX’s public and unconventional face — smoking marijuana on a popular podcast, feuding with local officials about opening his Tesla plant during the pandemic, naming his newborn child “X Æ A-12.” But insiders say aerospace industry veteran Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer, is also key to the company’s success.
“The SpaceX way is actually a combination of Musk’s imagination and creativity and drive and Shotwell’s sound management and responsible engineering,” McDowell says.
But it all comes back to Musk’s dream. Former NASA chief O’Keefe says Musk has his eccentricities, huge doses of self-confidence and persistence, and that last part is key: “You have the capacity to get through a setback and look … toward where you’re trying to go.”
For Musk, it’s Mars.
Satellite-Carrying Rocket ‘Lost’ After New Zealand Launch
A rocket from small-satellite launch firm Rocket Lab failed to reach orbit minutes after a successful liftoff from New Zealand on Saturday, the company said, losing its payload of seven small satellites it had intended to carry to space.
“An issue was experienced today during Rocket Lab’s launch that caused the loss of the vehicle,” the company said on Twitter, adding more information will be shared as available.
“We are deeply sorry to the customers on board Electron,” the Auckland, New Zealand-based company said. “The issue occurred late in the flight during the 2nd stage burn.”
A brief statement about today’s mission from our founder and CEO, Peter Beck. pic.twitter.com/QUShtzp7J0
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) July 5, 2020
Rocket Lab is one of a growing group of launch companies looking to slash the cost of sending shoebox-sized satellites to low Earth orbit, building smaller rockets and reinventing traditional production lines to meet a growing payload demand.
The rocket’s altitude peaked at 121 miles (195 km) roughly seven minutes after liftoff before quickly decreasing, according to in-flight telemetry on the company’s live video feed.
It was aiming to send five tiny Earth imaging satellites from Planet Labs, one microsatellite from Canon Electronics, and a cubesat from British company In-Space Missions into a sun-synchronous orbit 310 miles above Earth.
The failed mission, the company’s 13th payload launch, had been named “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”.
“While it’s never the outcome that we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one Planet is always prepared for,” Planet Labs said in a statement on Saturday, adding it looked “forward to flying on the Electron again” in the future.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Lunar Eclipse July 2020: Date, Timings, and How to Watch Live Stream
Today is the third lunar eclipse of 2020. The third lunar eclipse of the year will start in India today. We have been witnessing eclipse back to back since the beginning of the year 2020. Now, we are gearing up for the third lunar eclipse or Chandra Grahan of 2020, which is scheduled to take place on July 5, 2020. The penumbral lunar eclipse will take place during the day time here in India, which means most of us will not even notice it. It also coincides with the US Independence Day which is good news for US residents as they are among the people who will get to witness this celestial phenomenon. The first lunar eclipse of 2020 was in January, followed by the second in June, making it the third lunar eclipse for the year.
However, for people in India, the penumbral lunar eclipse may not be visible as it will take place in the day time. It will be difficult for Indians to witness the phenomenon. In certain regions, the penumbral lunar eclipse has also been referred to as “buck moon”, a name which Algonquin tribes used to call. South/West Europe, much of Africa, much of North America, South America, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Antarctica will be able to witness the phenomenon.
Lunar eclipse July 2020: What is a penumbral lunar eclipse?
On July 5, 2020, we will be witnessing a partial penumbral eclipse (upchaya chandra grahan in Hindi). It happens when Earth is between the sun and a full moon. While eclipses begin when Earth’s shadow falls on the moon, this time around the moon won’t be passing through Earth’s dark, inner shadow, known as the umbra. Instead, the moon will go through Earth’s outer, lighter shadow, known as the penumbra.
As per NASA, as there will be a full moon at 12:44 am EDT on July 5 (10:14 am IST on July 5) and will be the first full Moon of summer (US), the Algonquin tribes used to call this full Moon the Buck Moon.
When will the lunar eclipse occur?
As per data by TimeandDate, the lunar eclipse will start at 11:07 pm EDT on July 4 (8:37 am IST on July 5) and reach its peak at 12:29 am EDT on July 5 (9:59 am IST on July 5). It will last for 2 hours and 45 minutes after which the lunar eclipse will end at 1:52 am EDT on July 5 (11:22 am IST on July 5).
Who will be able to witness the lunar eclipse?
Unfortunately for people in India, the penumbral lunar eclipse may not be visible as it will take place in the day time. It will be difficult for Indians to witness the phenomenon. However, people in much of North America, South America, South/West Europe, much of Africa, Indian Ocean, Pacific, Antarctica, and Atlantic will be able to witness it.
How to watch the July 2020 lunar eclipse?
The penumbral lunar eclipse, and other such celestial events are often streamed on popular YouTube channels including Slooh and the website Virtual Telescope. If you live in one of the regions where this lunar eclipse will be visible, you should be able to watch it without any special equipment.
Japanese Startup Creates ‘Connected’ Face Mask for Coronavirus New Normal
As face coverings become the norm amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an internet-connected ‘smart mask’ that can transmit messages and translate from Japanese into eight other languages.
The white plastic ‘c-mask’ fits over standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet application that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the mask wearer’s voice.
“We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society,” said Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of Donut Robotics.
Donut Robotics’ engineers came up with the idea for the mask as they searched for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus struck, it had just secured a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.
Donut Robotics’ first 5,000 c-masks will be shipped to buyers in Japan starting in September, with Ono looking to sell in China, the United States and Europe too. There has been strong interest, he said.
At about $40 (roughly Rs. 3,000) per mask, Donut Robotics is aiming at a mass market that did not exist until a few months ago. One aim, he said, is to generate revenue from subscriber services offered via an app that users will download.
Donut Robotics built a prototype connected mask within a month by adapting translation software developed for its robot and a mask design that one of the company’s engineers, Shunsuke Fujibayashi, created four years ago for a student project to interpret speech by mapping face muscles.
Ono raised JPY 28 million (roughly Rs. 1.98 crores) for development by selling Donut Robotics shares through Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.
“We raised our initial target of 7 million yen within three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we had reached 28 million yen,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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