by Chris Tobias
If you thought SpaceX’s launch of the X-37B was the stuff of conspiracy theorists’ dreams, consider the upcoming launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday, November 15.
The mission, dubbed “Falcon 9 Zuma,” has a projected liftoff time of 8:00pm EST and a launch window that stretches from 8:00pm to 10:00pm EST. Following the launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a landing at Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
That’s it. That’s all we know. No other information about the launch, the payload or the overall mission is available. The rocket might as well have “TOP SECRET” painted on its side.
With SpaceX taking on more and more government contracts, this was bound to happen eventually. And I don’t know about you, but as a true Browncoat, I’m okay with it. After all, Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity often took on jobs with no questions asked (think of their work for Adelai Niska in the Firefly episode “The Train Job,” for example), and though it wasn’t emphasized in the show, it’s a commonly accepted fact in the greater Firefly ‘verse that prior to taking fugitives Simon and River Tam onboard, Mal and his crew would sometimes even accept small Alliance contracts on the outer rim if work was scarce, provided they could avoid “any undue fuss.” After all, the most important criterion when running a successful business is, as Captain Mal himself puts it, “I do the job, and then I get paid.”
As someone who believes in free enterprise and wants very badly for the private space industry to thrive so that we’ll have a better chance of becoming a multi-planet species, I don’t think the details of every launch should have to be made known to the general public. After all, we’re not funding the mission, nor are we providing the payload or the launch vehicle. In this age of online wiki sites and social media, we’ve become accustomed to having access to whatever information we want to know whenever we want to know it, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that in many cases that information is actually a privilege, not a right. Do I need to know the contents of every container ship that arrives from overseas? Do I need to have intimate knowledge of the inventory of every truck that Walmart sends to its stores across the country? Somebody does, to be sure, but not your average suburban high school teacher like me.
And as a regular guy who keeps track of rocket launches in his spare time and wants to see SpaceX name its first Crew Dragon after the ship in his favorite TV show, I’ve been impressed with just how accessible Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell and others at SpaceX have made themselves over the years. I can’t think of another company that has made STEM more hip than SpaceX. Heck, Elon Musk has practically made the term “engineer” synonymous with “rock star,” and so many of his projects, from Tesla to SpaceX to SolarCity, have been about making life better for the human race. At this point I’m willing to put my trust in him and his employees, and believe that he wouldn’t change course now and use one of those projects as a platform to do something detrimental to humanity just for the sake of financial gain.
So, the way I see it, when SpaceX takes “Falcon 9 Zuma” out to the black tomorrow night (the webcast should go live 20-30 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com and SpaceX’s YouTube channel), speculating about the payload and the nature of the mission will be part of the fun of watching the launch… as will seeing what the hosts of the webcast do to fill time during the countdown!
Peace, love and rockets…