60 years of NASA has brought us the first moon landing, the Voyagers, a progression of Mars rovers, Hubble, Cassini, TESS…and the next six decades are going to see it venturing even further into uncharted territory, but this time, the space agency will not be alone on the voyage.
NASA couldn’t even start fantasizing about private spaceflight—or collaborating with the private sector—when it first took off in 1958. Now companies like SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin will bring dreams that originally lived between the pages of science fiction books into reality. Dreams like space travel for anyone.
Private companies could potentially lower the cost of suborbital flights from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. That still might sound astronomical to the average Earthling, but to NASA, it could mean more opportunities than ever. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a collab with Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to and from the ISS (which is not going to end up as space junk after all). SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will start making crewed flights into low-Earth orbit as soon as next year.
Flying cargo to the ISS is another endeavor in which NASA and private entities will be stronger together. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, both of which have carried many robotic cargo missions to the ISS, have received contracts from NASA’s emerging commercial cargo program to continue doing so. Low-earth orbit endeavors like this only give the space agency a boost because they allow it to do the science it does best without having to worry about the business end of spaceflight.
Deep space is till going to be handled by NASA on the science and viability end, but the involvement of private companies in terms of spacecraft and supplies will be integral to making human footprints on Mars a thing.
"The private sector wanting to move fast and wanting to be cost-effective and NASA having our 50 years of human spaceflight experience…you bring those two things together, and they actually complement each other very effectively," Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA, told Space.com.
While NASA’s budget reaches five times further than the next biggest national space agency on the planet, it still doesn’t stretch far enough to the meet the demands of some immense future projects. These projects also take considerable time to plan both technically and financially. Enter private companies, who are typically quick with making financial decisions and coming up with a general vision for the mission. With both a more extensive budget and fewer migraines, NASA can then take that vision and transform it with advanced science and technology.
This merging of brains, business and efficiency ultimately what will send our species into deep space, so long as the human body can tolerate it.