I thought I’d share a humorous little anecdote that is probably indicative of what the average American knows about our legacy in space. Before I do that, though, allow me to set the scene.
Today begins a week on the calendar which reminds us that going into the black is never something to be taken for granted. On this date in 1967, a flash fire in the command module during a test on the launch pad claimed the lives of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Tomorrow, January 28, will mark the 33rd anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after launch with the loss of her entire crew: Dick Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. And Friday, February 1, will mark the anniversary of the 2003 loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
Over the years, I have written fairly extensively about these events and the astronauts whose lives they claimed, since I believe very strongly that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars, and if we do not continue to dare to push farther into the black, then these brave, extraordinary men and women will have died in vain. If you’d like to read any of my previous posts, just search the January and February archives on this site.
This year, however, I’d like to discuss, however briefly, this week of somber anniversaries within the context of our larger mission here at Take Back the Sky, which is to convince Elon Musk’s commercial space company SpaceX to name its first Crew Dragon after Serenity, the ship in Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series Firefly and subsequent motion picture Serenity.
While it is true that we want SpaceX to name the first Crew Dragon Serenity after a ship from science-fiction, in much the same fashion that the first space shuttle was named Enterprise after the starship from Star Trek and SpaceX’s workhorse booster rocket the Falcon 9 was named after the Millenium Falcon of Star Wars fame, there is more to the name Serenity than a reference to a space western with a cult following, and at times like this, that becomes apparent.
If you google the noun “serenity,” you will find that it means “a state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled.” The word itself suggests balance and harmony, with no hint of turmoil or conflict. This is, of course, precisely the state of being we hope the late astronauts of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia have now found. Though the phrase “rest in peace” may have become almost cliché in this era of social media tweets and soundbites, when I hear the word “serenity,” I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush, who wrote in the song Presto, “I am made from the dust of the stars, and the oceans flow in my veins” or the words of the English poet Sarah Williams, who wrote, “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” I believe that if the next spaceship to carry US astronauts into space from American soil were to bear the name Serenity, its name would, among other things, serve as a living, working memorial to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to further our understanding of the stars. And as the first privately built, privately owned spaceship to carry US astronauts into space as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, it would send a message that we not only hope they are at peace, but that we, the people, fully intend to carry on their mission– that they can rest knowing we have the watch now.
SpaceX completed its static fire of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon on January 24, and the ship’s unmanned demonstration flight is expected to take place next month. If you agree with me that Serenity would be a good name for the Crew Dragon, to honor those astronauts we’ve lost or for any reason, now is the time to write a letter or postcard to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell to let them know you want to see the ship bear that name. You can find the address for SpaceX as well as some tips for contacting them on the “Take Action” page of this site.
And whether you choose to contact SpaceX or not, don’t forget to say a prayer, light a candle, lift a glass or do whatever you personally find to be appropriate this week to honor the memory of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.
Ad astra, per aspera.
“Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take the sky from me. Take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back. Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me. There’s no place I can be, since I found serenity. You can’t take the sky from me.”– Joss Whedon, The Ballad of Serenity
In the six years that Take Back the Sky has been campaigning for a SpaceX Crew Dragon named Serenity, we’ve been encouraging people to send cards and letters to the company’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, asking him to name the first ship of the line after the spaceship in Joss Whedon’s 2002 TV series Firefly.
From 2013-2016, Jeff and I appeared at numerous comics and science-fiction conventions across four states with the same message: it’s Elon Musk’s ship, and Elon Musk’s money, so, ultimately, the decision as to what the name of the first Crew Dragon will be is going to be his.
While that may still be true, in recent months some developments have led us to believe that Elon Musk himself may no longer be the key player in whether or not our campaign is successful. With less than a year to go until the Crew Dragon is launched for her first manned demo flight, we now believe that if we are to convince SpaceX to name the ship after Serenity, the person we really need to win over is President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. Here’s why…
SpaceX plans to launch its thirteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida this Tuesday, December 12 at 11:46AM EST. A Falcon 9 rocket will carry an unmanned Dragon capsule into the black loaded with supplies, equipment and science experiments, including NASA’s Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) as well as a fiber optic payload. SpaceX will also attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 at the LZ-1 landing site at Cape Canaveral.
This is SpaceX’s first mission since indefinitely postponing the “Zuma” rocket launch that was to have taken place at LC-39A at Cape Canaveral last month. SpaceX indicated that it had some concerns stemming from a payload fairing test for another customer (the “Zuma” mission is supposed to launch a clandestine payload for an unnamed government agency), and that it was standing down until engineers completed their analysis. At this time that mission has yet to be rescheduled, but there are no such concerns for this launch.
According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, Tuesday’s launch of the Dragon will also be the first time that both the orbital rocket and the capsule are being re-flown. SpaceX has successfully reused Falcon 9 boosters on multiple occasions, and has already sent a reused Dragon capsule to the ISS, but this will be the first mission for which both the rocket and the capsule are flight proven. SpaceX has made reusability a priority for several years now, both in an attempt to lower costs and in order to take a significant step toward the day when frequent, perhaps even daily, launches both to and beyond Low Earth Orbit are commonplace.
A crewed version of the Dragon space capsule is scheduled to make its first manned test flight in the latter half of the coming year as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and as you probably well know by now, it’s this Crew Dragon that we hope will be named Serenity after the Firefly-class transport ship in Joss Whedon’s cult-classic space western TV series Firefly and motion picture Serenity. (If you want to know how you can help us make that happen, visit our Take Action page.)
In the meantime, the unmanned, flight proven version of the Dragon will begin its journey to the ISS on Tuesday, and you can watch the mission unfold live online. SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel approximately 20-30 minutes prior to liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets.
Since 2012, we at Take Back the Sky have been leading a grassroots effort to convince SpaceX to name the first of its manned space capsules after Serenity, the fictional spaceship from Joss Whedon’s science-fiction television series Firefly and feature film Serenity. Despite the fact that we’ve devoted a lot of space as of late (yes, the pun is intended) to covering the many launches that SpaceX has completed so far this year, we still think it’s important that we not lose sight of our raison d’être. To that end, here are ten good reasons why we believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity…
For many of us Americans, summer is a time to dial it back a bit. We enjoy a more lazy pace that fits the mild weather and the longer days, and we associate the months of summer with vacations, trips to the ball park and hours spent relaxing on the beach. Perhaps no weekend of the summer embodies this more than Independence Day weekend, with its tradition of picnics, baseball and fireworks.
It comes as no surprise to us that SpaceX sees things a bit differently.
Following two successful Falcon 9 launches last weekend, SpaceX plans to launch again this Sunday, July 2. This launch, which will be from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, has an evening launch window that is set to open at 7:36pm EDT (2336 GMT), and if the weather cooperates (the latest forecasts call that into question) it should make for some spectacular viewing that will rival any 4th of July fireworks display. For those who want to watch online, the live webcast will begin approximately twenty minutes before liftoff on SpaceX’s YouTube channel and at spacex.com.
The payload for Sunday’s mission, the Intelsat 35e satellite, is built by Boeing, who along with SpaceX is contracted to provide manned space capsules to NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program. It is designed for broadband data delivery, Ultra HD television broadcasts, and services for mobile and government customers. Due to the heavy weight of the Intelsat 35e satellite, there is no plan to attempt recovery of the Falcon 9’s first stage following Sunday’s launch.
SpaceX will have a recovery of a different sort in mind this Sunday though, as the Dragon capsule that has been berthed at the International Space Station since early June is set to return this weekend and is scheduled to splash down on Sunday. So, if all goes according to plan, the theme for the day will be “one up, one down.”
Once Sunday’s mission is completed, SpaceX will likely turn its attention to its next Dragon resupply mission to the ISS and its first launch of the Air Force’s top-secret X-37B space plane, which some have dubbed the “drone space shuttle.” Those flights aren’t scheduled until August, however. After all, even Elon Musk and company deserve a little time to kick back, grill some hot dogs, catch a Dodgers game and enjoy some fun in the sun.
Of course, this is SpaceX we’re talking about, so they’ll probably just head back to 1 Rocket Road and get right back to the business of making history!
If everything goes according to plan, a SpaceX Falcon 9 will break atmo for the third time this year in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 14.
This Falcon will be carrying a commercial communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation. According to SpaceX’s mission press kit, the satellite, called EchoStar XXIII, is a highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services (BSS) satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors that will support multiple mission profiles.
There is a two-and-a-half-hour launch window for this mission, which opens Tuesday morning at 1:34am EDT. The satellite will be deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch. This will be SpaceX’s second launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center. There will be no attempt to land the Falcon 9’s first stage after launch because the specific requirements of this mission make landing the booster prohibitive.
One interesting aspect of this mission is that it will likely be the last SpaceX launch that has an Air Force officer ready at the console as part of a traditional flight termination system. SpaceX’s launch on February 19 marked the first time that responsibility for commanding the rocket to self-destruct lay with computers on board the Falcon instead of a human being monitoring the flight from the Mission Flight Control Officer’s console at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is the first and only US launch company approved to use the Automated Flight Safety System, or AFSS, which continually records the rocket’s position and trajectory and commands the rocket to self-destruct if it repeatedly crosses pre-programmed boundary lines or violates flight rules. With the successful use of the system during the February 19 launch as well as thirteen previous tests in “shadow mode,” there is a high probability that SpaceX will use the AFSS, which is capable of responding faster than a human being could in the event that a flight needs to be terminated, for all future Falcon launches. (The system has yet to be approved by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for planned launches of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, one of which we hope they’ll name after Serenity.)
For those who feel sufficiently recovered from Daylight Saving Time to stay up for it, SpaceX’s launch webcast will go live about 20 minutes before liftoff.
If necessary, a backup launch window opens on Thursday, March 16, at 1:35am EDT.