Friday, March 10, 2017

NASA and SpaceX Join Forces for Space Travel and Exploration

Even though NASA and SpaceX are both aiming to reach Mars and do more moon exploration in the coming years, they do not see themselves as competitors in the space travel industry. In fact, it is quite the contrary: NASA relies on SpaceX for cargo and astronaut delivery when its budget has been decreased and SpaceX relies on NASA for its technical experience and expertise. Neither one is likely to succeed in their space-based aspirations without the other. In Samantha Masunaga's L.A. Times article, she discusses some of the ways the relatively new company and the government agency work together to make their goals a reality.

NASA's budget today is approximately half of what it was in the 1960s, at the peak of the Space Race. So, in order to make delivery runs to the International Space Station or perform other space exploration, NASA has been working with SpaceX over the past several years to combine funding and experience. In 2006, SpaceX was chosen to help develop the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule. About half the funding came from NASA and the other half from SpaceX, but it was the connection to NASA and the ability to work with experienced aerospace experts that helped SpaceX to grow so quickly.

In getting contracts with NASA to deliver equipment and people to the ISS, SpaceX gained massive credibility that would have taken much longer to develop any other way. NASA was able to get a private company's help in filling in their shrinking budget, especially as the space program was closed down, and SpaceX was able to build on their knowledge and become well-known in the industry as the main company in the private sector with such a close association with NASA. Today, SpaceX and Boeing are the two main contractors for shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS. Even if SpaceX is investing some of its own money in such missions, it makes sense, because the company gains popularity through being in the public eye.

Other private companies are getting in on the space exploration industry, but none on the same level as SpaceX. Blue Origin is doing research and development on lunar landers to be able to send deliveries to the moon. Virgin Orbit, a split-off from Virgin Galactic, is working on designing and building satellites. NASA, since the closing of the space program, has taken on the role of "development catalyst," encouraging and helping other companies to be able to break into the space exploration industry. It's a good strategy. By combining with other, newer companies with more funding, they will likely be able to one day succeed in some goals like the landing of humans on Mars, a mission that as of now seems improbable at best. With enough research and technological innovation, as well as teamwork between disciplines and companies, it could be a possibility in the years to come.

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