EDITORIAL: Flying high: Increased activity suggests big days ahead for SpaceX

A view of the topography and construction site at Boca Chica, Texas, near Boca Chica Beach at SpaceX Starship Assembly Site Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2019, as SpaceX constructs their new test vehicle known as Starship SN1. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

While the attention of most people probably has been focused on the coronavirus and resulting COVID-19 pandemic, Space Exploration Technologies has been busy advancing its goal of launching rockets from its Boca Chica Beach launch pad and its long-term goal of manned space missions. The private rocket company established by Elon Musk, has been conducting tests of its Raptor engines and Starship SN4 capsule at the local facility and will perform more in the coming days.

Expect at least one 500-foot “hop” test flight, like those conducted last year, in the near future. Success there should lead to higher and longer flights, including orbital missions.

SpaceX also is scheduled to send two astronauts to the International Space Station on May 27. This will be the first manned flight to leave the United States since the shuttle era ended in 2011; all recent manned trips to the ISS have launched from Russia.

Musk’s company already has sent unmanned ships to the station filled with supplies.

The manned flight officially will begin a new era of space flight in this country, led by SpaceX and other companies. Musk’s long-term goal is to reach Mars, but NASA first wants to return to the moon. The National Aeronautic and Space Administration recently picked designs for lunar landing modules from SpaceX, Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., and Dynetics of Huntsville, Ala., according to a recent news release from U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville. Once the final design is chosen and developed, NASA plans to send four people to the moon by 2024.

If that weren’t enough, SpaceX is negotiating with Tom Cruise and NASA to send the actor into space, where he will film part of his next action movie at the ISS.

Once the developmental tests are completed at the Boca Chica Beach facility, it’s unknown how many of the future projects will begin here. However, Musk has indicated that the local facility will be just as active as those he already uses in California and Florida.

From the time Musk first expressed interest in setting up a launch site in the Rio Grande Valley, local excitement has grown regarding the opportunity to be among the few areas connected directly to space exploration. Musk and local leaders have been active in coordinating their efforts in order to create support systems, including training programs at local educational institutions — from the university all the way down to local middle schools — to inspire and educate future engineers, scientists and fabrication crews who will support SpaceX and continue its development in the future.

That high-tech shot in the arm certainly will augment the expected growth in tourism as people stream to the tip of Texas to witness the dramatic, fiery blastoffs of future space missions.

Skeptics once wondered if the space industry would ever come to our backyard or if Musk was simply using the site as leverage in negotiations with his preferred location.

All that has been put to rest. Now we, along with the rest of the world, eagerly await the next steps in our ascent into space, and into the future. Recent developments suggest that it’s going to be a great ride.