After about four and a half months of downtime following a rocket explosion during test operations, SpaceX returned to flight on Jan. 14.
The aggressive timeline SpaceX brings to the table is contrary to the other major space launch companies. Most of these companies respond extremely conservatively to the great risk of space launch. For instance, the European company Arianespace has been launching their Ariane 5 rocket since before I was born in 1997. The costs involved in each mission are so high that most companies would not dare endanger mission success in attempt to make improvements. This is obviously not the case with SpaceX, as it has released consistent and notable revisions to its Falcon 9 rocket. Thus, SpaceX has achieved great successes in a short time frame relative to the rest of the aerospace industry, where projects often take decades to complete.” It has also, of course, fallen short of the incredible reliability of Arianespace and other more traditional companies.
SpaceX is a classic example of when people or organizations are left with a choice. They can take the most reliable possible course of action until forced to change, or they can embrace inherently riskier constant change and improvement. The reliability route is clearly the road most traveled. I venture so far as to say the reliable road is the only sensible path to take for any person or group that values their well-being mentally and physically. We can only take the path of constant change when something other than the well-being motivates us. This could be to fulfill a mission, for sheer enjoyment (strangely) or else something of the like. Based on its recent actions I am confident SpaceX is in a stage where it remains guided by the goal of its founder, Elon Musk, the creation of a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. It requires incredible discipline to maintain loyalty to one’s original cause. Perhaps this is even impossible, change being the only constant.
The evolution of a company from young and mission-driven to experienced with different motivations seems like an inevitable one. Over time, everyday operations cause things to slowly change and sight of the original goal is lost. The weight of short-term needs soon outweighs the grandeur of the original vision. The original, ideal ending is simply brought down by human nature itself: People in general default to doing what they need to do to survive optimally. We concentrate on the money, the fame, the power, the pleasure, whatever we meet on the way to the end goal and become distracted. From here the vision is done and the once-vibrant company, club, group or whatever it may be becomes something it was never meant to become. Whether the response is dismay or acquiescence it seems the result cannot be helped.
We see this common effect play out slowly in our everyday lives. We see it in our schooling, work, even hobbies. It takes a constant effort to counteract the negative change in attitude and remain fresh. I have seen individuals switch jobs frequently to avoid succumbing to boredom. People switch majors if the one they are pursuing becomes something they do not like. In schools, and, of course, here at the University of Michigan, countless organizations exist and are continuously created that ultimately help people counteract the slow negative change. Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult to stick to the plan long term.
This leads to the inevitable question: Is it at all worth trying to stick stubbornly to the outcome originally envisioned? It seems it would be necessary to align the stars in such a way that the natural tendencies for survival that break down grand plans instead help those plans along. If so, great sacrifices are needed to achieve whatever the original goal was. It is honestly probably better to let things run their course and be a part of the constant cycle of nascent hope and jaded maturity. I, of course, being relatively young, want to believe it is possible to break the cycle.
For no reason but this, I hope SpaceX succeeds. I hope Elon Musk gets his self-sustaining civilization on Mars because I want to see an exception to the rule ultimately succeed. I want to see that some “crazy” desire like wanting humans to live on Mars can be achieved despite sounding like a mission destined for failure. This would not only be another example of sticking to the vision of a major project in history, it would be a glaring, modern example that sticks in people’s minds. The successful return to flight is just one small step on this excruciatingly long and difficult journey, but I wish them the best.
Miles McGruder can be reached at email@example.com.