April 5, 2022
Melinda Head

“Return to Space”: The Commercial Frontier

Elon Musk has lofty plans for SpaceX … the Dragon spacecraft is just the tip of the iceberg (surprise, surprise)

On Friday, Netflix will release “Return to Space”, a 5-part documentary series about Elon Musk’s SpaceX project and the challenges faced by the team in realizing his ambitious dream.  

The film is directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, both of whom won an Oscar for “Free Solo”, a nail-biting documentary about Alex Honold’s climb of the El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park, void of any safety equipment (aka he could have plummeted to his death at any moment). If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Filming for “Free Solo”. Not your average movie set

Co-directors of “Free Solo” and now “Return to Space”, Jimmy Chin (a National Geographic photographer, skier and climber) and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (cut her teeth under the watchful eye of Mike Nichols of “The Graduate” and “Catch-22”) bring the synergy of their marriage to documentary filmmaking excellence. This is one documentary power couple!

"Throughout history, documentarians have had to struggle with the blurred lines of their responsibility to their subjects. We were haunted by the possibility that our presence might put (Alex) at more risk every time we turned on the cameras.” (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, co-director, “Free Solo”)

“Creating films and photographs through situations that few others could experience is my life’s inspiration.” (Jimmy Chin, co-director, “Return to Space”)

Like “Free Solo”, “Return to Space” is about pushing the boundaries of human accomplishment. Musk’s reputation as an entrepreneur and trailblazer in space exploration is enough to capture everyone’s attention. After all, space is such an enigma. Everything about it is fascinating, no matter who you are or where you are.

The world’s richest man, father of many children, awkward dancer, Securities Exchange Commission bad boy, impulsive Tweeter, in an unorthodox relationship with the artist Grimes … need I say more?  Anyone would be curious to see a movie that has anything to do with this highly accomplished renaissance man. But space is a serious venture, so what shall we expect to see in this upcoming SpaceX documentary?

The documentary covers the rise of SpaceX, culminating in a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) and then back to Earth. The first crewed mission launched from the U.S. since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, this film documents an historic moment made even more important by virtue of the fact that it was a private venture.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft can carry up to 7 passengers. It stands 26.7 ft. high, has a 13 ft. diameter and a capsule volume of 328 cu. ft. At launch, it can handle a payload mass of 13,228 lbs. and, when returning to Earth, 6,614 lbs.  It is equipped with 16 Drago engines for attitude control and maneuvering, powered by a mixture of monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. It uses 2 drogue parachutes (designed for deployment from rapidly-moving objects) to stabilize the spacecraft following re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and 4 other parachutes for further deceleration during the landing process.

So far, the Dragon has made 29 visits to the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS has been a work in progress over the past 20 years, and been continuously occupied since 2000. A joint initiative between the U.S., Russia, the EU, Japan and Canada, Americans have visited the ISS the most, by far (155 visits). The average stint on board is 6 months, though Peggy Whitson set the U.S. record for spending the most total time living and working in space (665 days) and lucky man Yuri Malenchenko (Russia) holds the record for visiting the ISS on 5 different occasions.

The ISS is the largest spacecraft ever built. Some say it cost $100 billion to build, and costs $4 billion per year to maintain. The world’s single most expensive object, the ISS is approved to operate until 2024.

The ISS weighs 925,000 lbs. and is about the size of a full length U.S football field. The living and working space is larger than a 6 bedroom house (13,696 cubic feet). Four tons of food are required to support an ISS crew of 3 for about 6 months.

Eight spaceships can be connected to the ISS at once. That’s quite a loading dock!

On average, the ISS orbits 240 miles above the Earth’s surface. To the naked eye on Earth, the ISS looks like an airplane or a very bright star moving across the sky, except it has no flashing lights and it does not change direction. It moves faster than an airplane – 17,500 mph vs. 600 mph. The best way to see it is just prior to or right after sunrise or sunset.

Nasa: Spot the Station Website

Traveling 5 miles per second, it takes the ISS 90 minutes to circle the Earth, which it does 16 times every 24 hours. The ISS has more than 50 computers abord to control its systems, and approximately 350,000 sensors. More than 3 million lines of software code on the ground support more than 1.5 million lines of flight software code. Woah!

Getting back to SpaceX, let’s be reminded of what Elon Musk once said: “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then profitability will occur”. Step one has been pulled off. What will be Musk’s next extraordinary feat?  Mars, of course!

“Going to Mars is going to be cramped, dangerous, difficult, very hard work, you might die. That’s the sales pitch.” (Elon Musk, CEO SpaceX)

Now take what you’ve learned and play today’s Return to Space Quiz of the Day:

1. Download Quizefy app.

2. 250 free gems will be instantly deposited in your name

3. Start playing immediately for free

4. Have fun and Strut Your Smart!

Coming Up For Quizefy

Every day:  a new trivia Quiz of the Day on continuously changing topics. Available for 24 hours only

Every Tuesday:  our FACT-ory blog on www.quizefy.com, with a matching Quiz of the Day in our Quizefy app. Read our blog for hints that will improve your Quizefy score

Every Sunday:  the Week in Review, our comprehensive review of national and global events in the past 7 days. This would be a great addition to your Sunday routine

Always:  trivia questions on a myriad of topics that you can choose yourself
Tuesday, April 16th: Billionaires
Wednesday, April 17th: National Jazz Appreciation Month
Thursday, April 18th: National Exercise Day
Friday, April 19th: National Garlic Day
Saturday, April 20th: National Humor Month
Sunday, April 21st: Week in Review
Monday, April 22nd: National Earth Day
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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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