Commercial Moon Travel Will Be Possible in “Just A Couple Years”
Regular space travel has long been the field of dreamers. While space travel captures the imagination of countless individuals in many fields, regular and commercialized space travel has remained the field of scifi writers and Hollywood blockbusters. Until now, that is.
In a conversation between Larry Smarr (Director of UCSD’s Calit2 lab), Patti Grace Smith (Aerospace Consultant, Patti Grace Smith Consulting), and Michael Sims, Chief Robotics Officer of Silicon Valley’s fledgeling Moon Express, the near future possibilities of commercial space flight were revealed today. Referencing myriad emerging private space enterprises, Smith and Sims discussed the growing private space industry and the dreams such an industry turns to reality. Smith explained her first meeting with Elon Musk, the force behind Paypal and, later, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. Musk, unassuming and quiet, met Smith in her office and blithely stated “I’m here to just tell you I’m going to build my own rocket, and then we’re going to inhabit space.”
The progress SpaceX has made since is startling. With the recent launch of the company’s Dragon space capsule, designed for service to the ISS, SpaceX holds the culmination of countless hours and hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial space technology R&D. Competing with the likes of aerospace giant Boeing for contracts, SpaceX has revolutionized rocket technology from the private sector. But it is not the competition that is most exciting about commercial space operations, it’s the collaboration.
We now live in an era of space startups. While SpaceX builds rockets and Bigelow continues to successfully collect data from successfully maintained inflatable habitats floating above earth, Moon Express is free to focus on a smaller niche within space travel. Sims explained the advantages of working on capsules to access the moon (and even Mars’ moons eventually) in an environment where someone else is already figuring out the transport out of the earth’s atmosphere. With what Smarr described as the emerging “ecology of commercial space enterprises”, a diversification of specializations allows Sims to expedite the schedule of Moon Express. How long will it take us to get to regular commercial moon expeditions? As Sims would have it, “Just a couple of years.”