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E3 Dragons!

E3 is always an exciting time for gamers. This year, everyone is abuzz with the news (disappointing as some of it is) about the XBone, the WiiU, and the surprise from behind: the PS4. And, while I am definitely excited about the next-gen console prospects prospect, I have to admit that it is the presence of a less traditional exhibit/booth/circle-jerk that has me chomping at the bit wishing I was there: SpaceX’s Dragon exhibit (in the parking lot!). I want ALL the swag.

Here there be Dragons!

Photo Credit: SpaceX. I stole this image shamelessly from their Google+ page.

What you see is a capsule that is touring the country after having actually flown in space. And you can touch it! I know I have… …And that didn’t sound dirty at all! SpaceX is using this tour to inform and educate people about the future of manned spaceflight, while at the same time capitalizing on some serious spacey sex appeal to augment their public relations and marketing campaigns. There are a disturbing number of people who think that NASA has either completely closed its doors or that there are no more astronauts in space at all.

My response to those people is usually that Canadian astronaut (and David Bowie cover band) Chris Hadfield launched himself and his crew with the power of his mustache. (Photo courtesy of some Canadians.)

Neither of these things is true. We’re currently buying rides from the Russians, which is unfortunate (and expensive!), but companies like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin are working on developing vehicles capable of at the very least carrying crew to the ISS. This even has a name in the Congressional budget (and it’s something they like to cut every year, but that’s another rant): Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). Some of these companies, SpaceX included, are aiming for more than that. They are developing Heavy Launch Vehicles and Associated Hardware (TM) that have the ultimate mission of getting humans to Mars. THIS is part of what they’re talking about to all those nerdy guys (there aren’t any of those reading this, right? Good.) at E3: humanity becoming an interplanetary species.

If you think about it for more than two seconds, it makes perfect sense that a next-gen space company has a booth at a next-gen gaming convention. A significant portion of games are science fiction, and space travel is an almost ubiquitous motif within that genre. Humans getting to Mars is as much a part of making the future exciting as the processing capabilities of the PS4, attempts at truly immersive virtual reality, and the legalities surrounding the borrowing and lending of games (seriously, Apple Microsoft, get with the program, here).

Another one of my favorites said "We're taking one step forward. They're taking 359 steps back." OOOOOH, SICK BURN!

Is it obvious I’m planning on getting a PS4? Just like everyone else…

Companies like SpaceX are ambitious, there is absolutely no doubt about that, and some would say they are perhaps more ambitious than their experience and maturity would merit. These amorphous “some” are not wrong to be cautious, even skeptical, but allow me to present some food for thought in the form of the following four pictures:

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser (Image credit: SNC)

Boeing’s CST-100. (Image Credit: The Boeing Company)

Orbital Science’s Cygnus spacecraft, which is an unmanned resupply capsule. (Image credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft berthed with the ISS. (Image credit: NASA)

One of these things is not the like others. The first three are computer-generated images looking at the craft and the ISS from the outside. This is because they have no equivalent to the fourth image, which was taken from on board the ISS on May 25, 2012. SpaceX was the first, and is so far the ONLY company to have their privately developed spacecraft (as opposed to one developed at the direction and under the supervision of a State-sponsored space agency) berth with the ISS. They developed this craft concurrently with the most economical pair of launch vehicles (rockets!) currently in existence. They are a company comprised of passionate engineers led by a man who wanted to spend his fortune on space so badly he founded his own company when he couldn’t find another capable of sending hardware to Mars for the right price. (There’s a saying in this industry that I wish was a joke: “If you want to make a small fortune in space, you have to start with a large one.” Elon Musk has poured all of his assets into SpaceX and Tesla Motors, his other company.) Traditional thinkers and tech speculators have poo-pooed the ambitious rocket company almost since its inception. This was probably driven in part by the fact that the only thing more common in the space industry than failed astronaut candidates are companies that promise to bring the revolution of spaceflight… and then promptly go belly up. Once burned, twice shy.

However, it may be time for even the disillusioned, jaded dreamers to start paying attention. It may be safe to start getting excited again. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.

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