So it's been awhile since I last posted and I must say much has changed. No, not just the amount of facial hair I have (though I'm in that super-balanced amount right now, looking dapper, ladies), but also my mindset and how I lay things out mentally.
So a lot of you know I was laid off from a previous job, a job I frankly came to hate and affected me in multiple ways. I'm frankly still learning all of the changes it created but one thing that has changed significantly is how I deal with it all. And that is... well, much better I guess.
You see, a number of things I never considered started to happen. I became much more open to the idea of pouring over advanced mathematics, started getting a ton of great feedback on my InstaGram for the pictures I take of celestial objects (read: mostly Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon), and I've developed a burgeoning love of history.
That last idea doesn't seem as exciting but let me explain it as best I can. History is normally a subject people loathe throughout school. You're told to learn the history of the country, maybe a little bit about wars, remember some dates, remember some faces, who drew a dick on the Declaration of Independence (made that up.. a bit), but one thing you're rarely given is a thorough explanation of WHY things happened the way they did. The more I learn about history the more I begin to appreciate historians and historians are WHY I love history.
You see, it's real easy to cite your textbook or some other "reference book" on a paper but you rarely consider where they got their information. Like, is there just a repository of knowledge they had to read and memorize or are there ancient documents they had to read? Well, it's a lot more of the latter. I know! How disappointing!
The point is, you quickly learn that nearly every story has conflicting reports and a good historian reports these and draws a conclusion and states just how definitive it is. That may not sound exciting, but it tempers your worldview quite a bit. Take, for instance, Roman history. Through an excellent podcast titled The History of Rome (click here, click it now, you'll be sucked into Roman history for months), I fully appreciated this approach as host Mike Duncan gives you the information, the position of its source, and the likelihood of its "truthiness." It's an extremely refreshing perspective, especially in a world where politics can be so polarizing.
And to continue down this rabbit hole, I unwittingly fell in love with an author without reading any of his books or even knowing he was an author. That sounds impossible, doesn't it? In most cases it probably is. Regardless, I began watching the Crash Course (click there, watch, donate, whatever - its an incredible) series (admittedly recommended because of my introduction to the Astronomy series of CC thanks to some amazing days at Wavelength Brewery (click there, also! I don't get paid for any of these links, I swear it!), and basically fell asleep to John Green telling me about World History. Then I watched US History, then Big History, World History 2, and before you knew it John Green was telling me about literature and I listed to all of that, too. Does "John Green" sound familiar? He wrote "The Fault in Our Stars." I found this out AFTER watching him for months and falling in love with his analytical style of telling history. It's fun and it's as unbiased as it can be (by admitting its bias).
So I said all of that to tell you this. SpaceX's reusable rocket is massively important but not for reasons you might think. If you hopped on Twitter after they landed their rocket on a drone ship (which is a thing - a motherf(bleep!)king DRONE SHIP), you'd have seen plenty of people calling for the next logical step - Mars. This shows us two things - 1) people really don't understand much about current research into Mars missions and 2) the public has an appetite for space again!
I'll try to remember to clarify on the second point but as to the first, there is this pervading idea that Elon Musk's company can take us to new heights. While I do not doubt that the public relations of this historic step forward can certainly help, he's waiting for NASA to figure out how to solve the Mars problem. Why? Because the same reason companies like SpaceX and ULA and Blue Origin didn't exist 50 years ago - the fringes of space research are dangerously expensive. And expensively dangerous, but just watch or read The Right Stuff to understand that sentence.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, a hero of mine (shocking), said it best:
"You don’t need NASA to move cargo, you get NASA to do the things that have never been done before. And then when they do it enough and there’s a routine, then you farm it off to private enterprise, which can actually do it more efficiently than you can, and presumably make a buck for having done so."
(pulled from an article at The Verge)
This is a fundamental idea that people seem to miss - that space exploration is expensive. To put it in perspective, the Space Shuttle only went to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and it's rocket fuel (liquid oxygen and hydrogen) cost roughly 1.3 million per trip. Now there are extenuating factors such as the massive bulk of the shuttle and what it was designed to do (ferry other massive, bulky things into space) so that is a slight exaggeration. Indeed, SpaceX reportedly has this cost down to about 200,000 bucks per launch of the Falcon 9 (not the Falcon Heavy, which would be significantly more). If you consider that to get to Mars you need effectively 7 tons of fuel for every 1 ton of payload (let's not talk about coming back - unless you want to, in which case click here for an excellent article from Iowa State University), you start to see just how expensive this could get.
But the reusable rocket, to quote Sarah Fecht of Popular Science, could "make the Falcon 9 into the Model T of space exploration." And this is a HUGE POINT. What gets missed in all of these private endeavors of space exploration is how much research NASA no longer has to do. There are now companies competing for the right to launch things into space (such as communications satellites, weather satellites, satellite radio, etc.), things that were done before but NASA had to put together teams to work out how to reduce these costs and make the rockets more efficient (to avoid paying any kind of fee for failing to complete a launch on time or blowing up somebody's multi-million dollar observatory). Without the burden of having to design these, NASA can look to much more ambitious projects and the results are already exciting. There's a super-rad mission to Venus using blimps - YES BLIMPS! - and asteroid re-direct missions, and outposts on the moons of Mars, and... space stuff!
To wrap all of this up, I'll point out the second thing I threw out there earlier and tout the publicity SpaceX is brewing up in all of this. If you watched any of SpaceX's launches live you might have seen the awkwardness of its hosts. They didn't pay broadcast personalities or hire public speakers to present these things. You're watching people who actually put sweat and tears into these projects try to talk to you about them. Its comically awkward mostly because you get the sensation that all of them would much rather be with the crowd of employees behind them cheering and yelling after every status update and live camera feed. They want to watch and be a part of history and they're stuck trying to explain to you how incredibly proud they feel at that exact moment. It makes the webcasts that much more enjoyable and I encourage you to replay the CRS-8 mission (on SpaceX's website HERE) in its entirety and watch the barely-contained emotion they present you with. This is something you can't fake and I do believe Elon is deliberately picking these people for their passion - not for their presentation skills.
You can't put a price on excitement and when you consider that SpaceX (and Tesla) prefer to build everything in-house and in the country, you begin to understand why this endeavor is once again an American (though pretty global) enterprise that we all can share and why people are genuinely excited about it much as they were about our missions to the Moon. Hopefully a new age of space exploration is on us and while it won't necessarily be led by SpaceX, it will assuredly be because of them among others.
Thanks for reading.