The recent successful launch of billionaire Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket undoubtedly reignited interest in space exploration and fueled conversations surrounding private company aeronautics. While some may have found Musk’s decision to send his cherry red Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars flashy or egotistical, the now-celestial car is symbolic of something far greater.
For decades, the budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has continued to dwindle, from a 1966 high of 4.4 percent of the federal budget to only around 0.5 percent today. Private companies owned and run by multi-billionaires – most notably PayPal founder Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – have stepped in to fill the gap of a downsized NASA, and then some. For the most elite of the world’s wealthy, it seems they prefer space exploration to private island construction – something that should be encouraged and fostered.
Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic companies are doing everything NASA cannot, and they’re doing it faster, cheaper and daresay – cooler. Space exploration may be better off in the hands of private companies owned by enthusiastic entrepreneurs with the passion, agenda and capital to usher in a new era of space exploration.
Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic companies are doing everything NASA cannot, and they’re doing it faster, cheaper and daresay – cooler.
As of late, NASA has focused strictly on research, analyzing data and observing interstellar events and bodies with the help of the International Space Station (ISS) and high-tech telescopes and computers. Save for trips back and forth from the ISS and the turtle-pace construction of the Space Launch System rocket, they’ve remained relatively grounded as a result of a drastically reduced budget and weakening political support. While NASA’s research is important, its recent low profile hasn’t done it many favors – a 2011 Pew Research poll found that 58% Americans are still generally supportive of the space program, but generally, interest in space exploration has dropped off since its peak during the Cold War.
Private companies, however, do not need to concern themselves with budget cuts from sovereign governments that force them to tame their visions for space exploration. Musk has poured millions of his own dollars into SpaceX and raised more on his own, giving him the freedom to create his own rockets and set his own agenda: in his case, the eventual colonization of Mars. This is an ambitious and exciting goal, especially considering President Donald Trump’s 2018 NASA directive is to first send astronauts to the moon (again).
This ability of private citizens to hit the ‘choose your adventure’ button on space exploration has helped spark newfound interest in space exploration. With half a million likes and counting on Musk’s tweet of a live-stream video showing the Tesla and its dummy driver floating in orbit around Earth, it’s clear that people are becoming interested in space once again.
And with the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) only a few hours away, the frequent and awesome SpaceX launches (Bezos’ Blue Origin only just recently built a rocket factory there and has yet to launch from Cape Canaveral) have enraptured CCHS students, some of whom travel up north to see the spectacle.
The image of an immobile white dummy clutching the steering wheel of a $100,000 luxury car, backlit by the Earth, has somehow become a symbol for a new generation of space exploration.
From an economic standpoint, the rocket launches of private Silicon Valley space entrepreneurs are far more efficient and cost-effective than those of NASA, too. While NASA’s custom is to allow the ultra-expensive rockets to blow up instead of recovering them once they detach from the main frame, both Musk and Bezos are intent on reusing the rockets – and have been successful thus far, saving millions of dollars. The price tags on SpaceX’s rocket launches – $60 million for the smaller Falcon 9 and $90 million for the Falcon Heavy – are meager compared to the hefty costs of a NASA launch, which the administration says costs $450 million. And, of course, the bureaucratic red tape and frequent delays caused by government intervention simply don’t exist with private space exploration companies the way they do with national agencies.
For the sake of ambitious space exploration and breaking boundaries in the most productive way possible, perhaps it’s best if the world continues to encourage and support the privatization of cosmic aeronautics.
Whatever you may think of it, the image of an immobile white dummy clutching the steering wheel of a $100,000 luxury car, backlit by the Earth, has somehow become a symbol for a new generation of space exploration.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX