May, 30, 2014: SpaceX has just taken a giant leap forward in making space tourism a commercial possibility with a new taxi to the stars.
Space enthusiasts have spent the better part of the last decade convincing people that the days of Lunar and Martian space flights for commercial passengers are fast approaching. Since then, years have gone by and the common man is still just as far from venturing out of the Earth's orbit as he was in 2004 when Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic.
Those promises of spatial exploration remain unfulfilled for now, but they advanced light years on Thursday evening, when SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the latest version of his company's Dragon series spacecraft.
The new space vehicle, the Dragon version 2,isn't dealing in just potential anymore. Its predecessor had already demonstrated its ability to successfully conduct spaceflights, and the latest version comes with features that will carve out a market for space tourism
Nicknamed the Space Taxi, the Dragon v2 can carry up to seven astronauts at a time and can be reused instantly after a flight back and forth. This wasn't a possibility with the original Dragon spacecraft, which was only partially reusable, and needed extensive breaks between journeys.
The newly unveiled spacecraft also has a third-generation heat shield, which would prevent it from developing scorch marks on its body upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. Hence, in theory, there should be no permanent damages to it on its way back.
Musk's latest toy can also land safely anywhere on Earth upon the completion of its space journey. This has become possible due to the new SuperDraco engines that can provide 16,000 pounds of thrust.
Making the flight experience even more pleasant will be the Dragon's new ability of automatically docking itself with the International Space Station (ISS). Previously, astronauts had to physically get out of the vehicle and connect the spacecraft with the mother ship.
The nature of these features proves that Musk and company are trying to bring two radical improvements to space voyages. They are trying to make them cheaper and safe – both the things that will be at the top of any potential space passenger's list once the service goes live.