SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy, which not only sent a used Tesla Roadster sports car with a mannequin dubbed “Starman” toward Mars but featured the simultaneous landing of the two strap-on boosters. The only failure of the flight occurred when the core first stage, instead of landing on a drone ship, instead crashed into the ocean at high speed. Nevertheless, the first flight of the Falcon Heavy is being universally hailed as the beginning of a new era in space exploration.

The Falcon Heavy flight also constitutes one of the first steps in repairing NASA’s space exploration program, shattered by President Barack Obama eight years ago when he canceled the Bush-era Constellation program.

Perhaps in appreciation of what SpaceX’s Elon Musk accomplished, President Trump was one of the many people to tweet a congratulation.

How Barack Obama set back space exploration by a decade

To understand the enormity of SpaceX’s feat, one has to look back eight years when President Barack Obama abruptly canceled the Constellation program that would have seen people on the moon by 2019. He did not, unlike President Clinton who replaced the troubled Space Station Freedom project with the successful International Space Station, try to create his own space exploration program.

President Obama attempted to kill space exploration by studying it to death, proposing a number of research and development programs without a commitment to actually send astronauts anywhere.

Then Obama announced the Journey to Mars program, scheduling the first footsteps on Mars so far in the future as to render the goal meaningless. He specifically eschewed going back to the moon, which proved to be embarrassing when two subsequent studies, one by MIT, suggested that a lunar return was a necessary prerequisite for going to Mars.

Incidentally, Lori Garver, who served as Deputy Administrator of NASA during part of the Obama years and is considered a midwife of that administration’s destruction of deep space exploration, has taken to Twitter in attempt to attach her brand to SpaceX’s feat.

It should be noted that Obama did not attempt to create a commercial-centric space exploration program.

It looks like President Donald Trump is headed in that direction.

On to the moon on the Big Falcon Rocket

SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, was quite ebullient, about his plans. He informed the media that work on the heavy-lift reusable rocket, decorously called the Big Falcon Rocket, is proceeding nicely. He suggested the hop tests will occur at SpaceX’s new spaceport near Brownsville, Texas. Orbital flights are envisioned in three or four years with the first mission to the moon soon after that.

The Trump administration has already reversed the Obama era prohibition of returning to the moon. The White House National Space Council is scheduled to hold another public meeting when, no doubt, strategies for a lunar return will be discussed, including commercial partnerships with companies like SpaceX. With the flight of the Falcon Heavy and the development of the Big Falcon Rocket, Elon Musk has something very substantial to offer for such an alliance.