On April 30, private space flight company SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 rocket in an attempt to become the first commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The free markets are finally meeting the final frontier, right?
Space has always been government's playground, though. Satellites and rockets were envisioned and implemented by national agencies, and have only recently moved into the private sphere. But that trend may be speeding up. Due to growing budget constraints, NASA has recently been forced to privatize many aspects of it's space and aronautics design, production, and travel.
SpaceX may currently be limited to space flight, but that could soon expand out into space exploration, human living atmosphers, and even colonization. The ISS — a international relations achievement merging multiple national space programs and their technologies together — may be the last government operated space station of it's kind.
And it was a novel concept.
According Wikipedia, the ISS program is "a joint project between five space agencies, including NASA, Russia's RKA, Japan's JAXA, the European ESA, and the Canadian CSA. The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. The station is divided into two sections, the Russian orbital segment (ROS) and the United States orbital segment (USOS), which is shared by many nations."
But what came before the ISS? And, more importantly, what can come after the ISS, especially as private industry takes off into the great beyond?
Here are some cool/ strange concepts from the past, and a quick spotlight on the future:
The all-American space station (1991)
As stated on Wikipedia, "Space Station Freedom was a NASA project to construct a permanently manned Earth-orbiting space station in the 1980s. Although approved by then-president Ronald Reagan and announced in the 1984 State of the Union Address, Freedom was never constructed or completed as originally designed, and after several cutbacks, the remnants of the project became part of the ISS."
The flying pyramid (1984)
This is the Johnson Space Center's 1984 "roof" concept for a space station. Kind of weird, but very pratical. The "roof" was covered with solar array cells, that were to generate about 120 kilowatts of electricity to run the station. Within the V-shaped beams there would be five modules for living quarters, laboratory space, and external areas for instruments and other facilities.
Recycling the space shuttle to use as a space station (1977)
"This station was designed to use Space Shuttle hardware. A solar array was to be unwound from the exhausted main fuel tank. The structure could then be formed and assembled in one operation. The main engine tank would then be used as a space operations control center, a Shuttle astronaut crew habitat, and a space operations focal point for missions to the Moon and Mars," according to University of Oregon's Abyss.
Inflate your own space station (1961)
This one stands apart from the rest of the list. The inflatable space station concept did, in fact, manage to cross the concept phase and was actually in its production phase when it was scrapped. It was designed to be taken to outer space in a small package and then inflate in orbit. The station could, in theory, have been big enough for 1 to 2 people to use for a period of time. The concept of space inflatables was revived in the 1990s. I don't know about you, but I would hate living in a balloon in space.
The Air Force meets Star Wars (1960)
Crews would be launched to this station in a Gemini B spacecraft, spend a month in orbit spying on enemy territories, and then return to Earth. Early designs called for the station to launch on Dec. 15, 1969, though this was pushed back to the fall of 1971.
The Death Star? I'm all for SpaceX and priavate enterprise further developing the space industry. But there is something to be said about the innovations which government agencies have created over the decades — innovations which followed a very stream-lined mission and achieved great success. Business does not want to explore the moon or explore Mars, or seek out new planets. Business wants to utilize what it knows exists.
While there will be undeniable benefits to free-market space travel, will it be the same aggressive and hyper-focused mission which was utilized by NASA?
Photo Credits: NASA/ Wikimedia Commons
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to properly cite language that was originally used without attribution to Wikipedia and the University of Oregon's Abyss. We apologize to our readers for this violation of our basic editorial standards. Mic has put in place new mechanisms, including plagiarism detection software, to ensure that this does not happen in the future.