The Future of Space: Does it Lie with NASA or with Private Firms?

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Space (via Marshall.org)

Space (via Marshall.org)

The race to explore space has amped up as of late. Many private companies are quickly mounting their highly ambitious plans while NASA is continually plagued by budget cuts. These private companies led by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk have changed the game.

NASA is considered "Old Space" by some, a dinosaur in terms of age, that is still a government-led, slow, and cautious machine tightly constrained by an ever decreasing budget. It is true that the heydays of Apollo and the Space Shuttle are over. Less than 1% of the federal budget goes to NASA, a stark contrast to the 5 percent they commanded in the 1960's.

"New Space," is wild, commercial, and full of ideas bordering on delusion. The free market of space exploration is the main source of innovation. With limitless funding and budgets, the new companies, such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, among others, envisage space tourism and colonization of Mars. Virgin Galactic claims they will send passengers into suborbital flights within a matter of months while SpaceX has lofty goals of reducing space transportation costs with reusable rockets as well as the eventual colonization of Mars.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2

Whatever goals these companies have, an argument can be made: they cannot exist without NASA's "guiding light and influence." In this new age of exploration, NASA and the private companies have inadvertently formed a symbiotic relationship as commercial enterprises are relying on NASA for contracts and NASA needs these new companies to help foot the bill. Since the space shuttle program ended, NASA's only way to send astronauts to the International Space Station is aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of $70 million per seat — a hefty price tag for anyone, even NASA.

The International Space Station (via ESA)

The International Space Station (via ESA)

The catch with private enterprises is that they must adhere to a business model since they are not funded by tax payers or big government funds. NASA contracts would be profitable to companies such as SpaceX and Boeing, who are competing to be the first private enterprise to send astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.

Until then, you can pre-book your seat to space with Virgin Galactic today.