1. Spacex has both a launch system and a capsule that is capable of performing the missions assigned to it.
2. Spacex can now start to fulfill its Cargo Resupply Services (CRS) contract, which helped fund the spacecraft’s development. (About 12 flights @ $130 million per flight)
3. Spacex can not only deliver cargo to ISS, but return it as well, something that no other existing vehicle can do since the shuttle retired last summer.
4. Spacex can deliver not just inert cargo, but cargo requiring pressure and even basic life support (including biological experiments, such as mice).
5. NASA now has a vehicle capable of serving as a lifeboat at the ISS in the event of an emergency necessitating the evacuation of the station, and need no longer rely on the Russians for this service. While it doesn’t have a full life-support system (yet) it does have a pressurized cabin, and in an emergency people could return in it with nothing but scuba tanks for the short duration of the departure and entry. Moreover, it can in theory support the return of seven crew members, and not just three as the Soyuz does. That means that the station crew size could be expanded without having additional safety concerns. Beyond that, if a Soyuz and Dragon were docked at the same time, it means that there is a functional “ambulance” capability — a sick or injured astronaut could be returned to earth without having to abandon the station.
6. It means that, were the Russians to have problems similar to those they experienced last fall, when they had multiple launch failures and couldn’t get to the ISS, NASA now has a way to get to the station in an emergency. While the Dragon doesn’t yet have a launch abort system (this is one of the items being developed as part of the commercial crew activities), it would be preferable to endure the higher risk of a loss of crew without one, than to abandon the hundred-billion-dollar ISS, as they actually contemplated last year. I haven’t polled them, but I’ll bet that, after this week’s flight, and the first two Falcon 9 missions, most if not all of the astronauts at NASA would be willing to take a ride in it right now, abort system or no, if it were an important mission. Their job is to fly in space, and they’re presumably willing to risk their lives to do so, as long as they understand the risk (as they didn’t really with the shuttle).
America has returned to space. The dreaded “gap” caused by the shuttle retirement didn’t even last a year.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.