But NASA’s decline is Musk’s opportunity, and a teachable moment. Upon viewing the Monday night launch of Falcon9, one European tourist said, “It's a spectacular sight. You don't see it every day, especially not when you're from Europe, there are no launches there.” He was not technically correct. On March 23 and May 16, 2012, the European Space Agency launched rockets carrying food and supplies to the International Space Station. Yet these were launched from French Guiana, not Paris, and their launch occasioned little attention and inspired little awe. Thus, one man, Musk, is doing more to advance the space race than an entire continent of nations.
This reality speaks to Europe’s continued decline, America’s abiding creative genius, and the limits on government initiative. SpaceX is doing much quicker and cheaper what NASA, after decades, could not do: design a cost-effective means for space travel and transport. Likewise, SpaceX is doing what Europe as a continent, and what no individual European nation, can do: inspire the next generation, advance space exploration, and compete with the Chinese for space domination. And SpaceX demonstrates how the private sector can (literally) take off where government falters.
In a prepared statement, Musk said, “It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market. I think we’re at a similar inflection point for space. I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology.”
Musk may be proved correct in the near future. But in the meantime, his company’s success should serve as a reminder that the true greatness of America lies in its initiative, risk-taking, and daring to go where few have gone. The future of private space flight remains uncertain, but SpaceX has already provided a giant step to inspire and model America’s continued leadership in the space race. At a time of prolonged recession and economic gloom, that is something to celebrate.