The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) oversees American activity in space. They are driven to explore outer space, but their journey has not been easy. According to History, the Soviet Union sent up its first satellite into space on October 4, 1957. It was called Sputnik I and it shook America. The United States was worried about being left behind, but they were primarily concerned with the possibility that the Soviets could send missiles. After this, the Space Race began.
January 31, 1958, marked Americans’ first achievement in space exploration. On this day, Explorer I was the first U.S. satellite to orbit the Earth. A few months later on July 29, Congress established NASA. The race continued and former President John F. Kennedy gave a speech of encouragement to send a man to the moon and NASA accomplished this with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” marking this in history forever.
With the International Space Station that NASA helped build, they have gathered information on our solar system and the universe, and they have sent satellites that have been useful to learn about weather forecasting, navigation, global communications. NASA has also sent multiple spacecraft and rovers to other planets. The Hubble Space Telescope is another one of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. It “has made more than 1.3 million observations” and it “generates about 10 terabytes of new data per year.” This telescope gives mankind a wider view of the universe and it has been gathering as much information as possible on it.
NASA currently has its InSight Mars lander and its Parker Solar Probe working on gathering information on Mars’ interior and touching the sun, respectively. Soon, NASA will send its Mars 2020 rover to space and also its Space Launch System rocket, which is the most powerful rocket they will have ever built. Experimental aircraft is also in the works. NASA is aiming to make aircraft that will be more efficient, silent, and safe.
SpaceX, on the other hand, is a private company that was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. It is dedicated to making and sending spacecraft to outer space. SpaceX looks to revolutionize technology so people may one day live on other planets. In its early years, the company was losing money and not having any successes. It was after some time and with their perseverance, that SpaceX made history with Falcon 9 when they needed it the most.
Although it is much younger than NASA, its achievements have been great in a short amount of time. In June of 2010, SpaceX’s Falcon 9’s mission was 100% smooth the first time it flew and a few months later in December, the Dragon spacecraft made history when it re-entered Earth from low orbit. Dragon was even the first-ever private spacecraft to arrive at the space station in 2012. It moves cargo for the International Space Station! In 2014, NASA and SpaceX signed a contract, sealing together one of their unified goals to send astronauts to space. A few years later, what can arguably be the most important triumph occurred in 2015.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched in December of 2015, it went into space where it released 11 satellites, and then it returned to Earth where it became the first self-landing rocket. This was a feat for SpaceX, forever changing the way rockets are made and used. Before this, sending a rocket into space meant not seeing it return to Earth. Rockets would stay in space, floating away forever. SpaceX had this breakthrough, meaning that aerospace companies no longer have to lose a rocket they could reuse in the future. Falcon 9 is one of those rockets. The first “reflight” for SpaceX happened in 2017 when Falcon 9 launched and returned to Earth after delivering supplies in space. Not long ago in March of 2019, the Dragon spacecraft docked with the International Space Station.
SpaceX went from a small company to a company that has “over 100 missions to its manifest, representing over $12 billion on contract.” Currently, SpaceX is collaborating with NASA on its Commercial Crew Program, a program for flying out astronauts, and SpaceX is building reusable launch vehicles that will transport people to different locations in our solar system. These two companies are not competing. Instead, they are working together to fulfill their common goals.
The future looks promising with NASA and SpaceX working together. As NASA states, what is next is to find out what is out there, what we can learn from space, and how going there will help us improve life on Earth.
Photo Credit: SpaceX