I've had a lengthy discussion today about the SpaceX mission. I'm observing the following - people act like this is some kind of breakthrough, at the scale almost of the Apollo program. Now I don't want to demean the effort, space is hard, but the reality as I see it is:
We are sending a capsule on top of a rocket to LEO. This has been done thousands of times by various space programs, and was done regularly in the US in the 60's. Aside from some external sugar such as LCD screens, this technology hasn't fundamentally changed since then.
In many ways the space shuttle was a much more impressive vehicle. Much larger, capable of randevouz missions (remember the Hubble telescope service missions?), in principle mostly reusable - remember SS only destroyed the big fuel tank. In theory ALL of the engines -most $$ part
were recovered. Even today SpaceX can't recover the upper stage engine. Now we all know SS eventually turned out to be a failure because the reusability was good only on paper. But I'd caution everybody - we still don't know if SpaceX reusability is any better economically.
So as much as I'm space enthusiast, I'd advise some humility about this launch. The US space program is really in a bad place right now IMHO and yes, in all that political crap and bureaucratic immobility, the SpaceX looks like a star. Especially compared to Boeing.
But in a larger perspective it really is not that impressive, in fact in many ways a huge downgrade from the Space Shuttle (which was developed in 70's and perhaps using modern tech could be made much better as well).
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