Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, has now safely landed a rocket that was once in orbit, which means that it can be used again. As Musk pointed out in a teleconference after the successful mission, this reduces the cost of leaving our planet by a significant amount. Not long before this, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin team accomplished something similar with a suborbital flight and landing.
Musk, Bezos, and their teams need to prove that they can do it again and again, of course, but the key point is that we now know it can be done, and this will encourage many private companies to think about what they can do in orbit and beyond when the cost of access to space is dramatically reduced.
Musk says that it makes the building of a city on Mars far more feasible, while I imagine many more people experiencing the Overview Effect, the experience of seeing our home planet from space and in space. We have a long way to go from the time when an unmanned rocket can morph into a spacecraft carrying human beings, but we are getting there.
Over a 50-year period, governments have managed to give some 550 people the Overview experience, and it has already brought profound changes in how we see ourselves, our planet, and our future.
As private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic compete to multiply those numbers, we can expect even greater changes in human consciousness and society—and that might be the most important outcome of the SpaceX accomplishment.