NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers.
Nasa Falcon9 May30

New Beginnings and an Ending

June 11, 2020
SpaceX hits new milestone in historic launch, while GE exits a historic business line.

As I sit here writing this column, NASA and SpaceX have just completed an exciting and historic step into space’s future. On May 30, the organizations successfully launched two astronauts to the International Space Station on an American vehicle, from American soil, for the first time in nearly nine years. More specifically, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. They successfully docked to ISS the next morning.

Unfavorable weather delayed the first attempt, but the second effort to launch SpaceX’s final test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program was a sight to behold.

It’s big news on a several fronts. Since 2011, when NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet was retired, the U.S. has been catching rides on Russian Soyuz vehicles to reach ISS. From a purely patriotic standpoint, it’s nice to see the United States getting back into that game.

Secondly, it is yet another step forward in the development of a new approach to transport crews into space—a public-private approach that gives commercial companies more flexibility in design and manufacturing processes, although still with substantial insights from NASA engineers. SpaceX is one of two companies —the other being Boeing—selected by NASA in 2014 to develop integrated transport systems to the International Space Station.

As a person with a long-time fascination with space—my keychain is a tiny replica of an astronaut—NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch (as this latest test was called) has been occupying a corner of my brain for quite a while. As a writer with a manufacturing focus, I’m riveted by the Commercial Crew Program because over time it will show if and how manufacturers can bring down the costs of space flight, while still maintaining the extreme levels of safety required for human travel beyond the bounds of Earth. 

SpaceX has already shown the innovation and cost savings a private company can bring to space programs with its reusable rocket technology.

That said, a lot of other exciting space-related innovation is in the works. Time, technology and budgets will ultimately tell the tale of our success in space. I look forward to following it all. A new beginning.

Lights Off

The ending to which I refer in the headline is the exit by GE from its residential lighting business. The company announced in late May that it had sold GE Lighting to Savant Systems Inc., subject to normal closing conditions. That deal is expected to close in mid-2020.

Savant is a smart home solutions provider. The transaction includes a long-term licensing agreement to use the GE brand, so I don’t expect to see the name disappear from residential lighting in the short term. Nevertheless, GE has been synonymous with lighting for well over 100 years, so I’m feeling a little nostalgic about the actual company’s departure from this line of business.

Nela Park, the long-time home of GE Lighting, is based in Cleveland—as am I. Its annual holiday lights spectacular during the month of December is a traditional treat for many Clevelanders.

Even more, in 2012 I was at Nela Park for the unearthing of a time capsule as part of a yearlong countdown to the site’s 100th anniversary in 2013. The boxy container held several items, including a handful of century-old incandescent light bulbs. GE engineers were able to get at least one of them to emit a glow.

If you like history, it was a pretty cool event in which to participate.

According to a press release, Cleveland will remain the headquarters of the lighting business. Savant CEO Robert Madonna stated that the company was committed to “ensuring that GE Lighting’s long history of industry leadership continues.”

So, when I say it is an ending, I don’t mean an ending to GE Lighting, but perhaps the ending to a chapter in the long history of the business. Which, I guess, is yet another beginning.

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