ABC News reports that the SpaceX Dragon, the first private spacecraft to service the International Space Station, successfully returned to Earth this morning at 8:42am Pacific Daylight Time, off the coast of San Diego.
The mission wasn’t glamorous. The unmanned Dragon “carried extra supplies, experiments and garbage that the space station astronauts had loaded on board.” However, the success of the flight indicates that May 31, 2012 might become a milestone in commercialized space travel.
Until now, all flights to the space station have been made by the U.S., Russian or European space agencies. NASA hopes SpaceX and other commercial firms will take over space jobs previously done only by governments.
[Space entrepreneurs] say space could be a bit like the old West: Governments sent explorers, such as Columbus or Lewis and Clark, to open the frontier, and then private settlers followed.
PayPal founder Elon Musk started SpaceX in 2002 and is moving his company closer to becoming the private sector alternative to ferry U.S. astronauts to the ISS. (With the shuttle fleet mothballed, the Russians are doing the job now at price-gouging levels.) Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com started Blue Origin to build, test, and deploy reusable spacecraft. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic wants to make orbits around Earth the high-flying equivalent of a five-star cruise.
With the economy in the tank and NASA failing to find an extraterrestrial mission Congress will fund, it’s time to let these and other capitalistic cowboys take their shot at taming the final frontier.