As my readers know, I write a lot about space, both on Blasting News and in other venues, such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the Hill. So, as 2017 is headed toward becoming history, it is only fitting that I take stock, steal from Time Magazine, and name my Man of the Year in Space. The winner, if you have been paying attention, should be obvious.

And the Man of the Year in Space for 2017 is – Elon Musk

The idea of a commercial space sector that runs independent of NASA and the military has been around for decades.


Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, has not yet made that happen. His customer base consists primarily of NASA and the United States Defense Department with a few commercial customers on the side. However, Musk has come close to that ideal. He has also done two things in 2017 that presaged the rise of an independent commercial space sector.

First, he has made 18 successful launches in 2017, as the Atlantic notes. One method for decreasing the cost of space travel is increasing the launch rate. The more rockets one launches the less each flight costs.

That factor had led NASA to dream of a space shuttle that could launch, land, and turn around to fly again as many as 12 times a year. The shuttle never achieved that flight rate.

The other thing Musk did was to make the recovering of the reusable first stage routine and to actually fly what he called flight proven rocket stages. The sight of a rocket, having helped to lift a payload into space, returning to the Earth on a tail of fire has been nothing short of spectacular and, no matter how often it happens, has never gotten old. Reusability and fast turn around is the other factor for lowering the cost of space travel.


What the future holds

A lot of new aerospace entrepreneurs have tended to be showmen, filled with big promises. Musk, with his predictions of massive, heavy lift rockets and colonies on Mars, has been no exception. However, 2018 promises to have a number of remarkable milestones in space travel, thanks to Elon Musk and SpaceX.

First up, in January, the first launch of the Falcon Heavy is scheduled to occur. Musk, always ready to get talked about, intends to launch his slightly used Tesla Roadster electric sports car in orbit around Mars.

One can just imagine future space explorers, millions of years from now, finding the Tesla and wondering how a ground transport vehicle got there.

SpaceX, along with Boeing, is due to start taking astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018. After an uncrewed test of the crewed version of the SpaceX Dragon in April, Musk intends to fly people in August. America’s dangerous and expensive dependence on Russia for access to space will, at last, come to an end.

Finally, it should be noted that Musk announced some time ago that a specially outfitted Dragon, launched by a Falcon Heavy, would take two paying customers around the moon.


A successful test of the Falcon Heavy and a flight of the crewed Dragon have to occur before such a trip is undertaken. So, it is entirely possible that the first people to depart from low Earth orbit since Apollo 17 will do so about a year after this article being written, an epochal event in human history.