Multi-billionaire CEO plans to launch space mission

SpaceX aims to send a manned spacecraft around the moon in 2018

Outer space, once the dark void beyond the earth, is now an emerging real estate venture. Elon Musk, widely known as the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, Inc., has brought a commercial perspective to the industry of space exploration, reimagining the outer space frontier with SpaceX.

SpaceX, of which Musk is also CEO, was founded in 2002 as a private spacecraft and spaceflight company that seeks to “revolutionize space technology with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets,” according to the company’s website.

SpaceX announced on its website on Feb. 27 that it will launch a manned Dragon spacecraft mission in 2018.

The Dragon, a SpaceX designed craft, features a trunk section for support during launch and a pressurized capsule for accommodating people and cargo.

The Dragon model has the capacity to function as either a cargo, crew or laboratory vessel. A cargo configuration of the model traveled into space in 2012, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station and return to Earth.

The company will send two private citizens into space, around the moon and back to Earth in the crew configuration of the Dragon, according to the SpaceX announcement.

However, before the private mission, SpaceX plans to complete at least two other trips to the International Space Station, an unmanned delivery this year and a professionally crewed delivery in late 2018 as part of the company’s contract with NASA.

Once those missions are completed and the two individuals have completed necessary tests and some basic training, SpaceX will launch the two member crew in the Dragon model from the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the same pad used for the Apollo program.

The announcement stated that the unnamed private citizens, “have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission,” and during a phone conference with reporters the day of the announcement, Musk revealed that the journey would take approximately one week to complete.

This mission is perhaps the first major step for Musk and SpaceX in working toward their ultimate goal of cultivating human life on other planetary bodies.

The February announcement came after September 2016 statements from Musk about colonizing Mars.

A National Geographic article outlined Musk’s September statements at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, the SpaceX CEO believes that flying humans to Mars will be possible by the mid-2020s.

Musk’s plans for achieving that goal though, are questionable. His timeline is vague, delays are anticipated for the completion of necessary equipment and sources of funding will have to come from private industries as well as governments.   

Space exploration is a valuable tool for better understanding our solar system and universe, but if powerful people like Musk keep their heads in the clouds for too long, they risk overlooking the realities of what it takes to make space travel possible, and they risk forgetting about what lives beneath them.

International space programs have historically functioned as means of development and advancement — of opportunities to see above the clouds — but those programs have largely come to exist within the bounds of law, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

And it is more than international law — it is space law.

Whether or not they realistically work, the existence of governing bodies such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is fundamentally important.

The UN committee oversees five agreements of international cooperation between member nations, one of which prohibits any one country or organization from claiming ownership of the moon or any other celestial body.

So Musk’s colonization rhetoric undermines the current laws of space and fails to recognize the logistic and historic implications of “new world” discoveries and settlements.

Engaging in the establishment of human society on other planetary bodies in the rapid way that Musk expects does a disservice and an injustice to humanity by neglecting the social unrest that plagues our own planet. What does leaving Earth accomplish, especially for people who will not be able to afford a trip around the moon or a new life on Mars?

Contrary to what Musk would hope, instead of providing inspirational answers for the future of humanity, SpaceX provokes more questions.

Will people of all countries and classes have access to this interplanetary travel?

Is the 2018 private moon mission a way of preparing for more extensive space travel, or is it just a way of claiming a “first” for SpaceX?

Musk seems to think the adventurous spirit of space exploration is enough to merit SpaceX an all-access pass to the world beyond our own, but Musk’s way of redefining space and putting international efforts into creating a multi-planet world abandons any hope for the future of our own planet.

Musk’s vision is understandably appealing space — it is a difficult yet exciting method for dividing humanity’s chances of survival among several celestial bodies. But as long as people can come back down to Earth, breathe the polluted air and decide to do something about it, hope for our home will endure. Maybe that hope amounts to the smallest fraction of the tiniest particle in the entire universe, but it would still exist.

Because Musk’s path to realizing the interplanetary dream in his own lifetime is impractical at best, his vision may actually accentuate that hope for Earth. Perhaps if we realize we cannot live on other planets as soon as Musk would like, then we would be forced to more substantially address the future of the one we have so systematically abused.

In any case, a unique experience certainly awaits the two people who will fly around the moon in the Dragon. The 2018 mission, if successful, could make history, providing another “first” for SpaceX and humankind.