America’s inspiring rocket launch
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - June 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Here’s something to cheer about amid the uncertainty we are facing. This event kept me awake past midnight Sunday: the launching of a crewed rocket on US soil for the first time in almost a decade.

The launching was significant in three ways to even a citizen of the world like me 9,300 miles away from the Florida launch site.

One, it was a private commercial enterprise that built the spacecraft named Demo-2 Crew Dragon. Two, SpaceX and NASA pulled off this extraordinary feat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Third, this shows to us that one can never count the United States of America, warts and all, out.

SpaceX’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon carried astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to low Earth orbit on their way to the International Space Station Saturday 3:22 PM EDT (Sunday 3AM here in the Philippines).

It was already significant that this was the first crewed flight to space taking off from US soil since 2011. But what made the launch a milestone in history was that the US took one step back, shutting down NASA’s two-decade old, expensive, and sometimes perilous space shuttle program in 2011, and opting to pay instead US$90 million a seat to Russia for its Soyuz rockets to bring US payload to the ISS.

(The space shuttle program’s 134 flights was estimated to cost a total US$209 billion, yielding a per-flight cost of nearly US$1.6 billion, according to Space.com. And two of those flights ended in tragedy, killing a total of 14 astronauts onboard.)

The US took one step back in order to make two steps forward, far ahead from those who wish to challenge its superpower status at all costs. (Think about allegations of China stealing technology from US tech companies, or Russia unleashing troll farms to exploit the virality of social media mixed with the vulnerabilities of American society.)

Under the Commercial Crew Program, NASA invests upfront in qualified private companies to develop rockets. Once a rocket is completed, NASA pays per use. Two private American companies, SpaceX and Boeing, qualified for this program. And after some failures and successes, SpaceX got there first and was able to develop a rocket that costs just about US$55 million per seat, far less than the US$90 million seat on a Russian rocket.

“This is a competition,” said Dave Mosher, Senior Space Correspondent for Business Insider. “If you can achieve these goals, we’ll give you more money. If you can achieve those goals, we’ll give you even more money to the point where you can launch our astronauts and test missions and we’ll eventually pay you for tickets on your commercial spacecraft,” Mosher explained.

Last Saturday (3:22 PM EDT) millions of people all over the world, many of whom are still on stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic, were glued to their TV sets or computer screens to witness a commercially-built sleek rocket seamlessly slicing through the sky. The scene was a far contrast to the wide-bodied space shuttle of 10 years ago carried by a massive rocket thundering through the sky to escape Earth’s gravity.

That Saturday, there was beauty in the sky. Moreover, we saw the other refreshing side of America, far removed from the narcissism of its leaders and the systemic ills of its open society. We saw the robust and innovative America committed to free enterprise and the culture of hard, honest work.

Pandemic and all, America leads in showing that humanity is still reaching out for the stars to make human life prosper and endure for centuries to come.

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