NASA is dead, at least as we know it. And Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, the commercial space travel company, is its killer. That’s because SpaceX launched the first private spacecraft on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral carrying cargo to the International Space Station. It’s smaller than an Apollo rocket, but don’t kid yourself: NASA may have expressed delight and support for the unmanned SpaceX Neptune 9, but this is the end of business as usual for the national space program. SpaceX is a disruptive force.
Musk, who launched SpaceX with $100 million of his own money, has been open about his belief that space travel has been hindered by bureaucracy. And that’s what NASA’s all about: bureaucracy. NASA has commissioned SpaceX to arrange a manned Dragon craft, which will be transported by the Neptune 9, for 2015 through its commercial division. But SpaceX has plenty of other clients too, including some in the private sector and the U.S. military. Richard Branson also has a space travel company, Virgin Galactic. NASA could end up as a footnote in space travel history.
Space travel has its detractors. Over time, NASA has had trouble justifying spending government dollars on what some consider pipe dreams, especially when the U.S. economy is ailing.
But Elon Musk wants to establish regular commercial service to Mars. He wants to create a permanent settlement on Mars.
To nonbelievers, Musk sounds like a nut job. But those who have done their independent research know he speaks from knowledge. Musk couldn’t have created SpaceX without the groundwork laid by NASA. But it is by carefully reanalyzing the facts and adding to them that he has been able to change space history in a day.
NASA can’t be happy about that. But everyone else should be.