SpaceX: Should we cheer private space flight?

With the first privately-owned spacecraft heading for the International Space Station on May 19, space enthusiasts argue that it's time to stop mourning NASA's decline

The Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket are rolled to the Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch pad for tests ahead of the landmark liftoff May 19.
(Image credit: NASA)

On the same day that a teary-eyed NASA crew powered down the last space shuttle, Endeavor, for the last time, the U.S. space agency greenlit the May 19 launch of the shuttle fleet's first private successor, the SpaceX Dragon. If all goes according to plan, the unmanned Dragon cargo capsule will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, orbit the Earth, then dock at the International Space Station, whose crew will unload the enclosed supplies and send the capsule back for a splash landing off the coast of California. SpaceX, owned by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, has also announced a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace to shuttle people to inflatable orbiting space capsules — think labs or hotel rooms — as early as 2014. With the SpaceX program, we're "opening a new era in human exploration," says Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz. But how much should we really cheer the dawning "billionaire age" in space travel?

We should all be invested in SpaceX's success: The Dragon is carrying more than tortillas and Tang, says John Harlow in The Australian. It also holds "the hopes of a new generation of billionaire 'space junkies' that private enterprise will now carry forward the torch of exploration lit by NASA" half a century ago. NASA has been fading since the tragic shuttle explosions in 1986 and 2003, and if Musk and his fellow space-obsessed tech titans have their way, they'll use NASA's discarded talent to turn space into "a publicly accessible economic and cultural phenomenon," just like they did with the internet.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us