Yesterday, (September 16th, 2014) NASA announced that both SpaceX and Boeing got contracts to fly manned crews to the International Space Station. For those of us who believe that the future of humankind is in space, that’s a pretty great step forward. This will mark the first time in the history of humankind that a private company has carried people into orbit.
Private-public partnerships have been a significant factor in the exploration of our planet. Kings, queens, and emperors commissioned private sailors to explore much of the world’s oceans. Sailors like Magellan sailed for wealth, fame, and glory, but their adventures were funded by rulers. In a similar way, governments are still the main impetus for manned flights in space. They provide a reason to go, and now, for the first time, the United States is letting a private company develop and make profit from that decision to go.
While NASA is paying much of the bill for the development of both Boeing’s and SpaceX’s capacity, the partnership is somewhat different than those of old. Here the private companies are being hired to work in low Earth orbit, which has freed NASA to think about how to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to the faraway destinations like asteroids and Mars.
But such partnerships do more than just free up NASA resources. They also allow private companies to develop the capacity to reach orbit and give them a financial incentive to bring the cost of space travel down. For instance, SpaceX is currently working on a reusable rocket technology that will allow its rockets to power up and land back on the Earth to be used again and again. Technologies like this have the potential to shave millions of dollars off the cost of getting to space, and that is good for us all.
My hope is that I will live to see the day in which I can afford to take my vacation in orbit or on the moon. Today my dream just took a huge leap toward reality.