SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is rolled out to prepare for a January 2019 flight test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (SpaceX)
The Webb Schools

Opinion: What the recent SpaceX rocket launch means for the future of space

On May 30, SpaceX launched their Crew Dragon spacecraft. With the American space program ending in 2011, there was considerable buzz as 10 million people tuned in to watch the live stream of the launch. And many more traveled to Florida to witness the launch in person. 

For example, Dr. James Lilley traveled from Claremont, Calif. to Cape Canaveral, Florida, a trip over 2,500 miles long.  

“I grew up with a love of space flight since I was 3 years old, watching men walk on the moon,” he explained when asked why he went so far. “I never had the resources to go to Florida when I was younger [and] seeing a large rocket launch like a space shuttle … was always of interest to me.”

And Dr. Lilley is not alone. In fact, the New York Times estimated that over 150,000 people came out to watch the launch in person.  

Indeed, this launch garnered the attention of so many because it was the rejuvenation of the American space exploration program. But, instead of relying solely on NASA, America has decided to hand over the reins to SpaceX, a private company founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. 

With this change, many begin to wonder what the future of space might look like.

“The private-public partnership in space transportation can improve innovation and accelerate the pace of progress,” Dr. Lilley said. “[Some people will] worry that corporations may put corporate profit interests ahead of national security interests.”

The view from the Crew Dragon spacecraft as it separates from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that propelled them into low-Earth orbit. (SpaceX)

Indeed, these worries are warranted. For example, SpaceX’s rideshare program charges at least 1 million dollars per payload. And each seat on a space flight costs 55 million dollars, according to Business Insider. While certainly lower than Russia’s asking price of 90 million on the Soyuz, a spacecraft American astronauts have been using since 2011, it is still evident that SpaceX looks to turn a profit.  

In fact, CNBC reports that SpaceX revenue reached 2 billion dollars in 2018 and that number can only rise with its recent success.

With their new project Starlink, which looks to provide internet to new areas, and their continuation of launching satellites and payloads to the international space station, space has effectively become another source of income for Musk.

It seems that the technological development SpaceX makes is no longer for the curiosity of mankind or placing America back on the moon. It seems that any technological development will be merely for profit. And that’s not unexpected or incorrect. As a private company, profit comes first such that operations can continue. 

But what troubles me is that NASA has handed the reins over to SpaceX. I believe that NASA embodied the pure curiosity humans had for space. But as they begin to offload some of their work onto SpaceX, I can’t help but start to doubt our purposes for exploring space.

Looking ahead, it seems that space will ultimately become fully commercialized. With other organizations like Blue Origin and Virgin Atlantic looking to accomplish similar goals to SpaceX, I believe that we will soon reach a point where NASA will no longer have as much jurisdiction over space as they did in 2011. Instead, for better or worse, these private companies will be at the forefront of our exploration of space, whether they be rapidly advancing technology or exclusively prioritizing profits.