Even though we are approaching the last launch ever of a Space Shuttle, that of Atlantis on July 8th, this does not mean that the U.S. will be without means of reaching space or resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). Many people, mistakenly believing that NASA is the sole access point and gatekeeper to space for America, bemoan our loss of pre-eminence in space. Many lawmakers, who should know better, are included in those ranks, because they are more concerned with losing jobs in their districts rather than applying the efficiency of the free market to space access. Fortunately, some of our best and brightest entrepreneurs pay no attention to such hue and cry.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that NASA is planning to use two commercial space launch companies, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX (Space Exploration Company) to launch resupply missions to the ISS in 2012. Orbital Sciences has been around since 1982, and uneasily straddles the divide between being a traditional government contractor and a more privately-focused entity. But SpaceX holds special promise for private space development.

SpaceX is the brainchild of Elon Musk, who brought us PayPal. he cashed out of that venture, then invested a large chunk of his own money in building a more efficient space launch vehicle than the major large government contractors. He has also put a lot of time, energy and money into Tesla Motors, which is building an all-electric vehicle that can blow away a Ferrari.

Musk participates in a dedicated but diffuse group of dedicated visionaries who are focused on the future of America, humanity, and Planet Earth, and believe space development holds the key. Musk is driven by the need to "back up the biosphere," as he puts it, on another planetary surface, or even in open space.

But that can't be accomplished without money, and lots of it, so Musk has used his well-honed business acumen to building a way to making it a paying enterprise. Hence the contract with NASA.

Musk has his many doubters and detractors, but last December SpaceX was the first company to launch a spacecraft, the Dragon capsule, into space, where it orbited the Earth and reentered safely, all without a dime of government money.

So if you are prone to despair that the days of America's space glory is behind it, fret not; it is only changing venue, as it should, from public to private development. NASA will always have its role, as the vanguard of exploration into the unknown mysteries of deep space. But it is time for NASA to step aside in the well-known operational sphere of cislunar space (the space between the Earth and the Moon), and let the Invisible Hand of the free market drive our adventurous enterprising spirit up and out, as it has done since time immemorial.
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Alex Howerton

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  1. Alex:

    Spacex did get some money from NASA, about 300 million dollars for the COTS program. Spacex was only paid when they reached milestones and the money merely accelerated the development of Falcon 9 and Dragon. The taxpayers got a steal here. Not just a new rocket but one that can launch capsules and satellites that can really evolve into a versatile produce. One that will reduce tax dollars even further when the government realizes they've been hoodwinked by the defense contractors for decades. Once those blood suckers get taken out of the loop, if not out right arrested for fraud, America can get going on a real economy. Not one based on the sale of overpriced fighter jets to countries with questionable or nonexistent human rights records.

    Space done the Spacex way can give America purposeful jobs with real economic benefits. Might as well, it's not like America is at the top of her game in that jet fighter market anymore.