SpaceX launched and landed a Falcon rocket Sunday from a historic NASA launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This mission was a step forward for Elon Musk's company — they plan to send a rotation of people to the International Space Station and eventually to Mars. Daily Tar Heel Staff Writer Luke Bollinger spoke with Gerald Cecil, a UNC astrophysics professor, to discuss the privatization of the space industry and the future of space exploration.
The Daily Tar Heel: With this new element of a competitive space industry within the U.S., do you think this is good for research and further development?
Gerald Cecil: Yeah, it is good. What it does is lower the entry point for payloads into space. If you can get the costs of flying one of these things down to a few million bucks, then any university level (principal investigator) who’s interested and wants to do something in zero G can fly on a Falcon up to a Bigelow-inflated space station and sit up there for years. At the moment, the entry point is more involved because you go through NASA. There are multiple runs before you fly your payload on the space station. With a privately available space station and private launching, cost price should be much lower.
DTH: What is NASA’s role right now? Obviously they are still involved, but in what capacity?
GC: They run the space station. They run all of the science operations on the space station. They’re responsible for contracting the rocket boosters. They don’t provide their own booster; they contract them from SpaceX and Orbital ATK and a couple of other companies. Eventually, the idea would be that NASA would give up all of the low earth orbit stuff, including the space station, and focus on more distant destinations. I think we have to get to the point where Bigelow demonstrates that they can inflate one of their big space station modules and stick a couple together. All they have to do is stick two together and they get almost the same volume as the International Space Station.