HISTORY was made on Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral. It was not the launch of the first, or even first private, craft to shuffle off the coils that anchor mankind to this terrestrial world. Nor was it the first time humanity has turned towards the stars, planets and satellites which are already within its reach. For instance, a recent very exciting discovery was made in July when Nasa’s Curiosity Rover found that ancient Mars had had the right chemistry to support living microbes, thus giving renewed (and fevered) impetus to interest in space exploration. The moon landings seem, by comparison, old hat. What made the recent blast-off of a SpaceX rocket ship into the Earth’s orbit truly remarkable, was that it is the first ‘civilian’ flight — as in the crew on board are not trained astronauts. With this comes what may be called a ‘democratisation’ of sorts of space travel. The Inspiration4 capsule was occupied by American tech billionaire Jared Isaacman, geology professor Sian Proctor, hospital physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux and engineer Chris Sembroski. The crew returned on Saturday.

It may be argued that ‘democratisation’ is a difficult term given the astronomical cost of this first private space flight. But as Mr Isaacman read out in his ‘thank you’ statement as the spacecraft climbed to nearly 200km above Earth, this is testament to the efforts of those who made possible a journey “right to the doorstep of an exciting and unexplored frontier where few have come before and many are about to follow”. It is worth remembering that it was a mere half century ago when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Elon Musk’s company’s efforts go hand in hand with those of others such as Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Boeing, and several others, to say nothing of the contributions of government-sponsored space-exploration entities. In a world that continues sadly to be beset by war, disease and unspeakable want, there is much hope to be taken from such outward-looking efforts.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2021

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