Sometimes, the “ordinary” stories are the most important
Read the headlines and you won’t see any mention of this morning’s successful SpaceX rocket launch.
It’s a secondary news story, at most, not on the front pages of national papers or websites.
What makes it worth noticing?
- Once again, rocket scientists managed to land a booster without damage.
- Reusing rocket boosters slashes the cost of space launches, with major implications for public and private uses of space.
- The launch was, once again, accomplished by a private firm.
- It shows these launches have now moved into a new era, one in which private, for-profit companies play a leading role.
The company, SpaceX, is owned by Elon Musk and is competing with several other private companies in what these entrepreneurs and their investors see as a profitable new industry.
The mission today was to launch a classified satellite for the US government, using a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket.
Space.com, which has a video of the launch, includes this report from SpaceX:
As the first rocket completely developed in the 21st century, Falcon 9 was designed from the beginning for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events – and with nine first stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.” –SpaceX via Space.com
My son, Jonathan, drove over from Orlando to watch the launch and says the ground shook for miles around. Here’s his photo of the event.
Why Ordinary Events Might Be Worth Noticing: A Brief Personal Story
Comment: Sometimes, the “ordinariness” of events is worth pondering. Nobody thinks about having lots of underpants and undershirts, for example, yet hardly anyone could afford them until 200 years ago. Most people didn’t have more than one pair of shoes. That everybody in America now has them, including the poor, is an indication of an extraordinary human achievement: a cornucopia of wealth. Something like 98% of American households now have color televisions, which have pictures and choices that no one–even the richest–couldn’t have in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, or 2010.
Cellphones are becoming that way, though people my age still notice their ubiquity (because we didn’t have them for most of our lives). Only a decade ago, they were limited to the wealthy. Two decades ago, no one had them. For kids today, they are simply part of the social landscape, so much so that it is presumed everyone has a mobile phone and is constantly available. That’s new, and it is noteworthy.
The extraordinariness of the ordinary first dazzled me in high school, during a visit to Manhattan. I lived in the Mississippi Delta and occasionally drove over to the “big town” of Clarksdale, then about 30,000 or 40,000 people or so. The tallest building there, the one where my physician uncle had an office, was six stories tall. It was a giant, and the owner had named it after himself, the McWilliams Building.
Now, walking on a side street in Manhattan, I noticed the building beside me must be 70 stories or more. It didn’t have a name. It didn’t even have a big, bold plaque. It just had a street number. To me, that said, “70-story buildings are pretty common around here.”
That’s exactly what the absence of front-page news tells us about Space X landing a Falcon 9 rocket booster.