It was a big step for a company - and an equally big step for humanity. Last Saturday at 9:22 p.m. German time, a Falcon 9 rocket from the American company SpaceX launched. 19 hours later, two astronauts in the Crew Dragon space capsule reached the International Space Station. For the first time, the space agency Nasa became the customer of a commercial private service provider that brings its employees to work. The flight of the Crew Dragon is a milestone in the history of manned space travel.
The launch of the missile in Cape Canaveral, Florida was streamed live by NASA. It wasn't as engaging a television event as the launch of the Apollo 11 mission and the first moon landing more than half a century ago. Nevertheless, it conveyed something of the fascination and unifying power that is still inherent in space travel.
Like in a science fiction series, real space travel means an urge to explore new places that no one has ever seen before. Even the prototype of the space shuttle, which had long been retired, was named after the television spaceship Enterprise - the colorful crew of which was supposed to represent a fictional society that could leave small national states behind in favor of really big goals.
This connection had recently been lost a little bit to space travel. The ISS was viewed less as a technical collaborative effort involving more than a dozen nations, rather as a kind of orbital bus stop or as a space garage full of strange stuff. In this country people were only interested in this when a German visitor like Alexander Gerst waved down.
If now not only the robust Russian Soyuz capsules can bring people there, but if the Crew Dragon can do it, it has been proven: Private space companies offer alternatives, enable competition and thus ensure progress. And even show that privatization does not have to be evil from the outset, as is reflexively stated in many debates about hospitals, swimming pools or waterworks.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk may seem like a freak to some (would a normal person seriously call his newborn son X Æ A-Xii?). You still have to acknowledge your entrepreneurial success. He built the electric car pioneer Tesla and now brought people to the ISS. He also wants to reach the moon and Mars. Go ahead!
SpaceX is an American company, passenger transportation was the first on American soil since 2011, and the mission was celebrated on Twitter under the hashtag #LaunchAmerica. But strictly speaking, a missile never leaves a country. A spaceship always leaves Earth. Astronauts who have returned from space describe them as "beautiful", "unique" and "vulnerable". This is also one of the connecting elements of space travel: you cannot see national borders from up there. You see the world as a whole. This perspective is often lacking when dealing with global problems - be it climate change or the corona virus.
The flight of the Crew Dragon brings back awareness of what people can do when they work together. Since the construction of the ISS, 240 people from 19 nations have lived and worked there. Together they carried out experiments, answered questions, solved problems. For what? For what they saw with every glance out of the window of the International Space Station. If people can overcome gravity and have had a permanent second home in space for two decades - what else can they do together?