On Feb. 6, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket – and a Tesla – into space. As the rocket drifted through the vacuum of space to David Bowie’s “Starman,” it became apparent that a new space age had begun. This is the first rocket to be reusable, and will likely be the first step into making space exploration truly attainable. This giant leap for mankind could prove that it is time for space exploration to be privatized.
For the past 50 years, man’s journey into space has been dominated by the superpowers of the world. Countries with large budgets have competed to be the first ones to reach the Earth’s orbit, and eventually to become the first to step foot on the moon. However, with the end of the cold war, the space race became less of a priority for nations around the world.
Private companies, such as Boeing have long had great interest in revitalizing space exploration since the public’s diminished interest. However, no private company has thus far been more capable of revitalizing interest in the race than SpaceX. Boeing has already announced that they are planning to place the first rocket on Mars. Interest surrounding exploration is at its highest since the height of the Cold War.
Perhaps this interest stems from gimmicks such as launching a Tesla into orbit, or perhaps it originates from public fascination with Elon Musk. Either way, public interest has greatly increased surrounding space exploration, including from other wealthy companies. Hopefully this public interest will stem into funding, and eventually scientific discoveries through exploration.
The private nature of the company allows more freedom of what they want to accomplish. Unlike government funded organizations such as NASA, SpaceX can focus exclusively on capitalizing upon technology which makes space exploration and even space tourism a conceivable and worthwhile form of profit.
In 2017, NASA received nearly 19 billion dollars from the U.S. government. This makes up .5 percent of the national budget during 2017. While 19 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at, a great deal of this money is going towards aircraft engineering, environmental monitoring and other various scientific and environmental aids.
The NASA budget is reliant on taxes and government spending. It is not a certainty from term to term what kind of budget they will be looking at. As such, projects can be put on hold or ceased entirely between terms. With a private company funding space exploration, they can more reliably establish budgets, and can take much bigger risks as they are not using taxpayer money.
The budget of space exploration is notoriously expensive, which is why it stopped being such a priority for most countries around the world. Yet, billionaires have the money to risk on things that may seem like externalities, as they are more likely to see a return on investment. The last rocket launched by NASA, The Endeavor, had a whopping price tag of 196 billion dollars. For comparison, the Falcon Heavy rocket launched by SpaceX only costed 90 million dollars.
The competition around space exploration is also likely to change with the introduction of private companies into the race. While private companies have long held stock in the production of rockets, many were more concerned with satellite technology and passenger planes which could take wealthy investors into orbit.
With SpaceX prioritizing the exploration of other planets, the interests of countries and companies are subject to change, and quickly. The competitive nature of capitalism will encourage other investors to get involved with this kind of technology as well. If enough investors get involved, space exploration could become a lot more affordable and practical for not only wealthy countries, but for the entire world.
It is time for space exploration to be privatized. While various governments around the world are funding space exploration, they simply don’t have the budget to accurately and reliably fund man’s journey into the great beyond. SpaceX is just the beginning of a new space race, and hopefully is just the beginning of our voyage into a galaxy far, far away.