Here’s the first blog post of the semester, as well as the first post of our new blogger, Konstantine Tettonis! We’re all very excited to have him on board.
When we say, “The Final Frontier,” we no longer look west, towards the Pacific; we look up, to the sky. Cowboys, horses, and stagecoaches have no use in the exploration of this new frontier. Instead, rockets, aircrafts and rovers will be necessary to chart the unknown and mysterious expanses of Space. Needless to say, this frontier will prove to be much more expensive to explore than the last. The question is: Who should fork over the money, the government or the private sector?
Budget appropriations for space exploration programs have been in decline since the Cold War years. In 2013, the U.S federal government allocated around 17 billion dollars towards funding NASA. Since it retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, the bulk of NASA’s operations have been focused on studying human-induced changes to the Earth’s atmosphere. Nonetheless, NASA still conducts space-flight programs—just not by itself. To send its astronauts and cargo to space, it now uses privately owned spaceships and transportation vehicles. NASA provides contracts to private sector space transport services, most notably, SpaceX, in order to use their launching capabilities to send its research material and other cargo into space.
However, companies such as SpaceX are capable of much more. Currently, the transport service is working on a project that would send the first humans to Mars. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, stated that the company would be able to make the colonization of Mars a reality in the next 10-15 years.
The extraordinary capabilities of the private sector beg the question: why is the government still involved? Private sector companies have more money and more interest in space exploration than the government does—so why not let them fund it? In the same interview with the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk stated, “We want to be like the shipping company that brought people from Europe to America, or like the Union Pacific Railroad…we want to facilitate the transfer of people and cargo to other planets.” So, does the private sector need the U.S to lead the way into this new frontier, or can it go it alone? Regardless, saddle up, because it is going to be an interesting next decade for space exploration.