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SpaceX

To the moon!

If this is on your bucket list, you may be in luck.

SpaceX, the ambitious rocket company headed by Elon Musk, wants to send a couple of tourists around the moon and back to Earth before the end of next year. If they manage that feat, the passengers would be the first humans to venture that far into space in more than 40 years.

Mr. Musk made the announcement on Monday in a telephone news conference. He said two private individuals approached the company to see if SpaceX would be willing to send them on a weeklong cruise, which would fly past the surface of the moon — but not land — and continue outward before gravity turned the spacecraft around and brought it back to Earth for a landing.

“This would do a long loop around the moon,” Mr. Musk said. The company is aiming to launch this moon mission in late 2018.

The two people would spend about a week inside one of SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsules, launched on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. The spacecraft would be automated, but the travelers would undergo training for emergencies.

Mr. Musk did not say how much the travelers would pay for the ride. “A little bit more than the cost of a crewed mission to the space station would be,” he said.

The Falcon Heavy itself has a list price of $90 million.

While the trip appears to be within the technical capabilities of SpaceX, industry experts wondered whether the company could pull it off as quickly as Mr. Musk indicated. “Dates are not SpaceX’s strong suit,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a space advocacy group consisting of aerospace companies. The Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy are years behind schedule and have yet to fly.

“It strikes me as risky,” Dr. Dittmar said, adding that autonomous systems are not infallible. “I find it extraordinary that these sorts of announcements are being made when SpaceX has yet to get crew from the ground to low-Earth orbit.”

[…]

Seven space tourists have paid tens of millions of dollars to fly on Russian Soyuz rockets to visit the International Space Station, which is about 200 miles above the Earth’s surface. This would be a much more distant trip. The moon is about a quarter million miles away, and the trajectory would take the capsule 300,000 to 400,000 miles from Earth.

My advice is to start saving up for it now. I don’t know if travel insurance will be an option, but stuff can happen, so be prepared for contingencies. In the meantime, I leave you with a song:

If they don’t play that on the launch date, someone needs to be held accountable.

Still more hyperloops

They had a hyperloop design contest at Texas A&M:

In the end, Elon Musk couldn’t resist showing up to the competition he helped inspire. The billionaire SpaceX CEO made a surprise appearance at the end of the Hyperloop pod design competition at Texas A&M University Saturday, eliciting a rapturous reaction from the thousand-plus audience of high school and college engineers who were there to compete for a chance to test their designs on Musk’s personal Hyperloop track later this year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s team was awarded the top prize, and will now go on to build an actual pod to race on the under-construction track near SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters. The Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands were the next runners-up. Auburn University won in the category of best overall subsystem. Twenty-two teams in all will go on to test their pods in Hawthorne, although up to 10 other teams could also qualify after further judging in the coming weeks, according to SpaceX.

Dozens of other winners in propulsion, design, levitation, and braking were also announced at the end of the two-day competition, which also featured technology demonstrations like Arx Pax’s hover engine, and a speech by US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The event was meant to generate excitement among engineers and the public for the tube-based, transonic, vacuum transport system popularized by the billionaire Musk in 2013. But it was also meant to serve as a rebuttal to skeptics who dismissed the Hyperloop as too fanciful, impractical, and expensive to exist in the real world.

“The public wants something new,” Musk told the attendees. “And you’re going to give it to them.”

See here and here for some background. I still think this is all pie in the sky, but it is nice to think that there might be better ways to travel than what we have now. Maybe if this doesn’t work something like it will. Texas Monthly has more.

The dark side of SpaceX

Be careful what you wish for.

People who live in Boca Chica Village, all 26 of them, knew Elon Musk’s SpaceX company would put the South Texas town on the map after it was selected last year as the world’s first commercial rocket-launch site. Now, many want SpaceX gone and their obscurity back.

The residents say SpaceX representatives told them recently they would be required to register with the county, wear badges and pass through checkpoints on launch days, which will occur about once a month beginning as soon as next year. During a 15-hour launch time frame, their movement around the village could be restricted. If they happen to be picking up groceries past a designated “point of no return,” forget about going home.

SpaceX’s proposed methods to enforce the safety rules — sweeping the beach with drones and video surveillance — aren’t helping matters. While the rules still might change, all this makes residents wish SpaceX would go away, with some even talking about acts of civil disobedience or maybe a lawsuit.

“I’m like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ ” said Cheryl Stevens, 55, who settled in Boca Chica Village a decade ago in search of quiet, rustic beauty. “It’s like Nazi Germany.”

[…]

Boca Chica Village, in one of the state’s poorest counties, sits on a dusty fleck of land between wind-swept sand dunes, emerald marshes and a desolate white beach. It’s officially called Kopernik Shores, after the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, which now seems a small irony. The community of about three dozen houses, filled with mainly seasonal blue-collar workers and retirees, originally was built by a Chicago real-estate developer in the 1960s.

Experts say the safety issues are real. David Kanipe, an associate professor in the aerospace-engineering department at Texas A&M University and retired NASA engineer, said that during Cape Canaveral shuttle launches, viewers typically were required to be at least three miles away from the site. Boca Chica Village is less than two miles away. Residents could be exposed to dangerous chemicals used during launches, such as hydrazine, and falling debris in the event of an explosion, he said.

In June, an unmanned SpaceX rocket burst into flames minutes after it left Cape Canaveral. In the following days, beachgoers were warned to stay away from any toxic rocket debris that washed ashore.

“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable living that close to it,” Kanipe said.

Read the whole thing, it’s kind of an amusing story if you’re not on the business end of it. I suppose this issue will come up again, as more private space launch companies emerge and need places to do their thing. Let Boca Chica Village serve as a cautionary tale and a starting point for negotiations about the procedures for launch days. See this 2007 Austin Chronicle story if you want to know a bit more about the history of this little town.