The moment marked a pivot point in U.S. space ambitions, away from total NASA control and toward creative private enterprise. While NASA furnished seed money and technical advice, SpaceX engineers designed, built, launched and drove the white gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule until the final moments.SpaceX hopes to eventually ferry more than just cargo to the space station: ever since NASA terminated the shuttle program, our space program now contracts with Russia to ferry our astronauts, to the pricey tune of $63 million per seat.
The company was founded by an entrepreneur by the name of Elon Musk, and his story is one that Galt-goers everywhere should love. Musk made a massive fortune by founding Paypal, which was eventually purchased by eBay. After making a his billions as a technology entrepreneur, however, Musk decided that instead of sitting back and enjoying a lifetime of leisure, he was going to try to revolutionize the world instead. Musk founded two companies to do just that, and set out to run them simultaneously. Anyone who has seen the film Revenge of the Electric Car is familiar with Musk's stewardship of Tesla Motors, the luxury electric car company which, as the film tells it, survived a painful growing process only because of his dedication. If the chants of "We love Elon!" reported by the Washington Post are any indication, it's more than likely that SpaceX added a new chapter to the history of spaceflight owing in no small part to his thirst for success.
By any measure, Musk should be someone whom the right wing in all its objectivist glory should idolize: a self-made billionaire setting out to prove that one man with drive can use the private sector as a world-changing force. It would also, then, be expected that Republicans in Congress would be thrilled to support the change in our country's aeronautical exploration strategy that SpaceX represents: instead of NASA, a government agency, maintaining ultimate control over all aspects of the operation, we are now at a point where entirely private companies are competing with each other to produce the innovations that will result in the next phase of space exploration. But as Space News reports, that has not been the case.
A surprising cast of enemies, often powerful Republican legislators, have queued up to oppose the commercial crew contracts. Increasingly, opponents argue against even modest government investment in the commercial transport of astronauts to the international space station. They succeeded in cutting more than half of President Barack Obama’s budget request for this year, resulting in at least one year’s additional delay to the program. Now they argue that commercial crew is so tardy that, even assuming no further delays, the currently approved life of the international space station will expire only three years after the first commercial flight. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has gone so far as to suggest raiding the commercial crew budget and removing competition from the program in order to restore Mars science funding.The reason? As Space News explains, Congressional Republicans—and Democrats as well—love traditional corporate welfare even if it comes at the expense of fostering innovation, as long as that welfare happens to be coming home to their particular states and districts. These Republican efforts to eliminate novel programs are not only hurting the transformation that seems to be the next stage of the space exploration industry; they are also hurting American jobs by making it more likely that rocketry contracts will go to foreign companies, and that we will continue to have to pay Russia for the privilege of having our astronauts hitch a ride with them.
Republicans should have considered the success of SpaceX and its entrepreneurial founder Elon Musk to be an ideological coup: a strong testament to the spirit of entrepreneurship and private-sector competition. Instead, many are seeking to undermine it at every opportunity.
Outside of a gravy train for their big business contributors, what do Republicans stand for exactly? Hard to know.