The Orion flew today for the first time.
The hype and hoopla surrounding this flight was about what you would expect from an agency that is spent so many years and billions getting to this point. If you listen to the media releases it would seem that this is the start of our expansion into the entire solar system with the development of science and exploration to follow.
Those of us that have followed the development and cost of this program, question the value of this flight, especially in relation to the price tag and excessively long schedule. It will be at least 8 to 10 years before astronauts will fly on this vehicle to any destination worthwhile or not, totaling decadesÂ from concept to manned test flight.
It would be interesting if SpaceX could do a little trick to upstage the hype and hoopla of the flight of the Orion. If one of the Dragon capsules could be sent around the moon and reenter from there, that would capture the imagination of people that know where the moon is but have no concept of how far 3600 miles from Earth is. I suggest they do this with one of the Dragon One capsules that has already been to the international space station. Demonstration of reusability would be clearly demonstrated in a most spectacular manner.
Justification for this flight could be as simple as Elon Musk claiming, without attribution, that his detractors in Congress are questioning the ability of his vehicles to safely carry humans, especially to the distances expected of Orion. Properly done, he might even get NASA to pay for it. By doing it in a humble manner to address the issues that people claim that his vehicles have, he could actually pretend to be in a very defensive position aboutÂ the flight, which afterwards would stand in stark contrast to a vehicle that only went 3600 miles into space after 10 years and as many billion dollars.
The cargo Dragon would obviously be unmanned, as was the Orion flew today. For the general public it could easilyÂ be a distinction without a difference thatÂ the Dragon One is not a human rated capsule after you clearly show people from the International Space Station inside it loading and unloading cargo. The Dragon One is clearly capable of housing humans in space as witnessed by the international space station astronauts. It can be shown to have astronauts inside it in space, which the Orion cannot do.
A Dragon capsule which had been to the international space station and back, which afterwards flew to the moon and back, would demonstrate reusability, deep space capability, and a willingness to take risks. This would stand in stark contrast to the Orion that flew today, and the organizations that were responsible for that flight.
The time to do this for flight would be after NASA, Lockheed, and Boeing, have had enough time to emphasize their superiority in space flight based on the OrionÂ test flight.Then do a simple series of press releases which emphasizes that the Lunar flight was simply a test flight to prove the equipment. Now we know the heat shield will work, and that our navigation is sufficient unto the task. Them very humbly refuse to compare it publicly to the Orion, and let the voting public do that for themselves.
If it is possible to fly a Dragon Two on this mission with a simple Falcon Nine, an argument could be made that SpaceX has surpassed NASA on its own turf. Especially a Dragon Two with crash test dummies inside including the one from MythBusters if possible. The recovery of the dummies from the ocean after they had been around the moon could well be the private enterprise spaceflight Kennedy moment.