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SpaceX and NASA are all set to launch the Dragon 2 crew vehicle from the launch complex 39A in Florida tomorrow. The mission, which is the final phase in the testing of SpaceX's commercial crew vehicle, will mark the first step in a long way towards the commercialization of space and the shift of the burden of space exploration to the private sector.
To that end, NASA and SpaceX officials have been providing regular briefings to members of the press during each stage of the Dragon 2 crew vehicle's pre-launch readiness certification. NASA guidelines mandate regular reviews even days before a launch is set to take place to ensure that each risk for a mission is identified, all procedures are vetted thoroughly and any discrepancy or problem that surfaces at the last moment is rectified.
As a part of these reviews, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Robert Cabana Senior Director Kennedy Space Center, Commercial Crew Astronauts Nicole Mann and Kjell Lindgren and Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard provide the final press briefing before tomorrow's liftoff. I
SpaceX Crew Dragon DM-2 Mission Will Lead The Way Towards Commercializing Low Earth Orbit
Tomorrow's Crew Dragon DM-2 mission is a culmination of nine years of investment, research and development conducted by SpaceX and NASA to ensure that the United States does not fall behind in the commercial space market for delivering astronauts and payload beyond earth gravity, and to ensure that the space agency has a highly cost-effective alternative to the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.
At today's briefing, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took to comment on the financial details of the entire Dragon program and the state of the commercial space market. Such details are often scarce in NASA press briefings, with SpaceX management often refusing to yield to probing for financial information by stating that all such details are proprietary.
According to Mr. Bridenstine, tomorrow's mission marks the first step towards the commercialization of low earth orbit, in a model that allows NASA to go to the moon and to the low earth orbit sustainability. In such an era of commercialization, the NASA administrator hopes that private corporations will go as far as to build their own space stations in low-earth orbit in order to commercialize an economy that consists of services and operations unique to the environment there.
To add force to his claims, Mr. Bridenstine highlighted current projects on the International, Space Station that have the potential to drive up the value of the commercial space market that NASA currently estimates at roughly $400 billion to a staggering $1 trillion.
Experiments on the ISS that the administrator uses to highlight the merit towards achieving this goal include immunization for salmonella, the ability to compound pharmaceuticals in microgravity (currently impossible in gravity), 3D printing organs in space – an effort that currently at the tissue level and can bloom into creating retinas for the human eye and the ability to create fiber optics in space.
Such industries will be critical for future space travel believes Mr. Bridenstine as they will ensure that taxpayer funds are met with equal or greater investment from the private sector – an occurrence that the administration believes is necessary for sustained human - and American missions to the Moon and to Mars.
Finally, commenting on the cost of SpaceX's Dragon cargo and crew vehicle that will deliver astronauts to the International Space Station tomorrow, Mr. Bridenstine commented that this is a "$3.5 billion launch by the American taxpayer", with the agency intending to encourage the private sector to invest by leading the way.