I find it disappointing to see SpaceX eclipse NASA as the institution that Americans rely upon for our presence in space and as the symbol of American space exploration. Back in 1969 when the world saw American astronauts landing on the moon, Americans felt pride at an accomplishment, which they owned because it was NASA’s achievement. The moon landing was the collective success of scientists and engineers at NASA who achieved a technological revolution and overcame tremendous technological challenges while in the employ of our government. We are told that SpaceX is a private enterprise when it receives billions of taxpayer dollars. In turn, SpaceX has recruited talented scientists and engineers from NASA.
While the U.S. taxpayer funds SpaceX, the U.S. loses control of space technologies. Over the past half century NASA has, at a profit, licensed thousands of NASA-patented technologies to private companies. However, NASA has given SpaceX free use of its patented rocket and aircraft technologies. SpaceX, in turn, using billions in taxpayer dollars to develop new technologies and benefiting from free use of NASA-patented technologies, retains exclusive ownership and control of its technologies. This is bad for America. It ensures NASA’s permanent reliance on SpaceX and undermines the independence of our space program.
As a father, I would have loved for my kids to see NASA in the forefront launching two astronauts into space for the first time in nearly a decade. Instead I saw an infomercial for SpaceX starring Elon Musk, devoid of the proud spirit of former space launches. After the launch, Musk was nearly speechless, claiming to be moved beyond words. Perhaps Musk, whose achievement is a taxpayer-funded vanity project, was speechless because he cannot authentically give voice to the enthusiasm and aspirations of millions of Americans. Musk’s unmanned test of SpaceX’s launch technology in February 2018 featured the launch of a Tesla into space, which was a crass car commercial. It was not something the people of America or the world could be proud of.
NASA has been the agent of our collective national ownership of the space exploration enterprise for more than half a century. It has inspired our nation and the planet. NASA should return to its leadership role, employing the technological brain trust of America’s top scientists and engineers for our space program. The space program should remain in the hands of NASA, and not in the hands of profiteering individuals who can neither express nor represent the ideals of our space program. Our people desire the exploration of space, not just for commercial reasons, but for reasons of science and to pursue the greatest human adventure of discovery. NASA should be the catalyst for future generations of young men and women to enter the sciences. The exploration of space should remain a collective enterprise and space technologies developed at taxpayer expense should remain government property so that NASA continues to be a source of pride and optimism for all people.