American entrepreneurial spirit: to infinity & beyond!

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday, May 22. This launch marks the first time, a private company sends its own rocket to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Photo from John Raoux/AP & The Christian Science Monitor

The American entrepreneurial spirit, when leveraged correctly, can produce game changing results.  After the Apollo Program put a man on the moon, the entire nation grappled with what to do next.  What followed were a series of massive government programs to achieve increasingly complex engineering feats.  First, the nations of the world came together to build the International Space Station (ISS).  Then we built a reusable shuttle, one that could take cargo up to space and bring stuff back.  Finally, we aimed our sights to Mars.

However, we hit the hard limit of what a massive government program can do.

The costs were the first warning signs.  Massive engineering projects of this scale required lots of money.  The entire cost of the International Space Station, counting the budgets of other nations’ space programs and the cost of the Space Shuttle flights to assemble it, totaled $150 billion.  That ranks it amongst some of the most expensive peacetime government projects ever.  To better understand that number, the entire cost of the Interstate Highways up until 2010 is $425 billion.  These massive costs would be impossible for NASA to bear, especially with its dwindling budget.

After the costs came the bureaucracy.  Government programs were selected and funded according to the whims of congressmen who cared more about how much of NASA’s funding came to their district or state than they did about whether those programs were an efficient use of resources.

When, in 2006, the decision came down that private companies where going to be called upon to ship cargo to the International Space Station, many voiced their concerns.  However, a huge first step was taken this week to re-establish American built contact with the ISS.  SpaceX launched their first Falcon 9 rocket to ship cargo to the ISS.  This is tangible proof that, if unleashed, America’s entrepreneurial spirit can work miracles.   While still in its infancy, the promise of SpaceX is a business model that injects space exploration with both the drive that only free-market competition can provide and the flexibility that NASA could never dream of having.

Conservative estimates put the Falcon 9’s cost per launch at three times cheaper than the current Atlas V rockets cost.  A study done by NASA last year concluded that had the Falcon 9 been developed by NASA in-house, the project would’ve cost almost three times as much.

by José M. Martínez