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In space exploration, freedom wins again

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, with Falcon 9 in background
Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken
with their Falcon 9/Dragon in the background

This week we shall once again see a demonstration of the power of freedom, and it will not be a demonstration by protesters in Hong Kong or Michigan or New York against the petty dictators who rule them.

No, it will simply be the launch of an American rocket, owned by an American company, putting two Americans in space. While most reports of the manned Dragon launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will properly focus on the new engineering and the specific achievement — the first American manned space mission in almost a decade — few will recognize how it is freedom, that forgotten word, that more than anything made it possible.

And it has always been this way, since the very beginnings of the space age. As John Kennedy expounded in his 1961 speech committing the U.S. to a lunar landing, that commitment was to demonstrate that a free people and nation could do it better:

If we are to win the battle that is going on in world between freedom and tyranny, if we are going to win the battle for men’s minds, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks [Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight followed by Shepard’s suborbital flight] should have made clear to us all, as did Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take.

Now is the time to take longer strides — time for a great new American enterprise — time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievements which in many ways hold the key to our future on Earth.

…We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

Kennedy, and the nation that backed him to finance the Apollo program, stood for freedom. They believed, unequivocally, that freedom could always accomplish things better.

And they were proved spectacularly right. In the 1960s it was freedom that won the race to the Moon. The competitive innovative culture of the United States provided the federal government’s agent, NASA, the wealth and tools to quickly put together a program and get to the Moon fast, and first.

That was at the beginning of the space age. But it keeps on happening. In the 1980s freedom won again, but this time not in a Cold War between the free United States and the totalitarian Soviet Union, but in the Soviet Union itself. That top-down communist command-economy was going bankrupt, because top-down communist command-economies simply do not have the ability or flexibility to make an economy function well. Lacking freedom, they always go bankrupt.

The head of the Soviet Union at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, was desperately searching for some way to revitalize his nation. He settled on a policy he called glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”), both designed to not only introduce democracy into the Soviet government system but to also encourage competition and innovation.

While Gorbachev never really understood that freedom meant he needed to give up power, ceding it to the ordinary citizen, his effort did lead to a burst of freedom in the Soviet Union, its eventual fall, and more than a decade of new prosperity as the people of that nation were suddenly given the freedom to innovate on their own.

In his space program Gorbachev was especially daring, flying the first paying customers to the U.S.S.R.’s space station Mir (a news reporter for the Tokyo Broadcasting Service and a woman for a British entertainment consortium), making the Soviet space program the Soviet leader in capitalism. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union it quickly adapted to the commercial market and for decades its rockets and launch services were quite profitable and competitive in the international launch industry, gaining almost half of the satellite launch market.

Sadly, despite this success, Russia never embraced freedom properly, and so no competitive internal aerospace industry developed. Instead, they maintained a top-down cultural structure, squelching any new competitive independent efforts within Russia, and have since consolidated their entire industry into a single government-run monopoly. As a result, there was no pressure to maintain quality control, many rockets crashed or failed, and thus they have lost most of that international commercial market share.

Freedom won again, but not for Russia, which in the end appears to have rejected it.

And now, freedom is about to win again in space, and this time it is going to do it in the U.S.

Though the Apollo 11 lunar landing won the victory for freedom that Kennedy had wanted, the American public and its political community took the exact opposite lesson from that victory. Rather than depend on private enterprise and private initiative, fueled by the dreams of individual Americans free to follow those dreams wherever they pointed, the American public now wanted to follow the Soviet model in space, a top-down “space program” regulated, designed, and solely organized by the federal government.

For a half century the American space effort became a miniature Soviet Union, ruled from above by NASA with no freedom given to anyone in the aerospace industry to compete. NASA planned, controlled, and dictated everything. Private companies could only follow, like dogs on a leash.

The result was, like the Soviet Union, a bankrupt space effort. For fifty years we went nowhere, spending a lot of money but getting very little for it. Around and around the Earth the space shuttle flew, teaching us little about rockets or spaceships or any of the engineering required to build a profitable and successful space-faring industry.

With the retirement of the shuttle the government once again demanded that the American manned effort be run by NASA. The agency would build a new big rocket (now called the Space Launch System) and spaceship (now called Orion) and these would be the foundation for the country’s future space program beyond Earth orbit.

So, for now almost two decades we have waited for these big space top-down government programs to bear fruit. Neither has flown. Both have spent billions (about $55 billion, give or take several billion).

At the same time, a small contingent in NASA’s management began a parallel program, relying not on NASA to build the rocket and capsules, but private competing commercial companies. In 2008, during the last week of George Bush Jr.’s administration, the agency awarded commercial contracts to two different private companies, SpaceX and Kistler, to provide cargo to ISS using their own rockets and capsules, designed and owned by them.

Kistler eventually went belly up and was replaced by Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus capsule and Antares rocket (now merged into Northrop Grumman).

SpaceX has become a bit more famous and successful. They not only successfully built a new very inexpensive rocket, the Falcon 9, and cargo capsule, called Dragon, they demonstrated that both could be configured for reuseability. Despite being called impossible and impractical by NASA managers for decades, SpaceX proved you could launch a satellite into orbit and still vertically land the first stage, and then reuse that first stage again. The company also demonstrated, despite NASA resistance, that its Dragon capsule could be reused as well.

Free to innovate and focused on producing a less expensive product for its customers — the very heart of what makes capitalism and freedom work so well — SpaceX very soon became the dominate rocket company in the world, launching in 2017 the most satellites in one year ever by a private company, and tying Russia that year for the most launches. Since then the company has taken Russia’s entire commercial business away, while cutting into the market share of every other launch company.

Now SpaceX is about to fly its first manned Dragon mission. If the weather cooperates, at 4:33 (Eastern) on May 27, 2020, a Falcon 9 rocket will put two NASA astronauts into space. For the first time in almost a decade two Americans will fly into space on an American rocket in an American spacecraft from American soil

More important, this is not a NASA mission. It is a launch by SpaceX, for NASA, who is merely the customer. The rocket and capsule were designed and built by this private company, which also owns them. While NASA did provide a great deal of advice and support, it was SpaceX that did it, a free American company owned by a free American named Elon Musk.

This is not the Falcon 9, or Starship, but SpaceX's first Starship prototype, StarHopper
Not Falcon 9 or Dragon. Only the future.

Once again freedom has won. While NASA, the Soviet Union of this new internal American Cold War, continues to struggle mightily to get its overbudget, behind schedule, and very expensive SLS rocket off the ground, it is freedom that once again provided the wealth and tools to quickly put Americans back into space again.

This is a lesson we need to relearn time and again. Freedom always works better. Let people come up with they own ideas. Let them do whatever they must to make them reach fruition. Stay out of their way. Support them without interfering.

And above all, let them own their work.

Do that, and success will always follow. Always.

Freedom is what fuels human endeavor. It is what makes all great things possible.. And it is why SpaceX will be launching two Americans into space this week, not NASA.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • James Street

    This is a big deal. President Trump knows it.

    Trump, Pence to Come to Florida to Watch SpaceX’s Historic Launch

  • eddie willers

    The last time I heard the word freedom from a Democrat may have been JFK.

  • Tom

    Spot on, Bob!

  • Mordineus

    Are those the new Space X space suits or a new design from NASA?

  • Mordineus: Those are designs from SpaceX. Once again, NASA only advised and provided some support, everything else was designed and built by SpaceX.

    They are not really spacesuits, but flight suits, for use only inside the capsule during flights up and down. You could not do a spacewalk in them.

  • Derek Duncan

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    ― Theodore Roosevelt

  • John

    Hope it gets delayed a little bit, so I can watch after work!

    Starship is where it’s really at. It could be the space equivalent of the primitive covered wagons headed west. If we can stay economically free that is. Depression and socialism could end that dream and many others.

    But first things first. Let’s fly Americans in capsules to low earth orbit again.

  • Derek Duncan: Two questions. First, your point? I don’t disagree with Roosevelt, but in what way does it relate to my essay.

    Second, why did you post this quote twice, using a different name and email address? I know both were from you, because the ip address was the same. Are you real, or are you a new sophisticated type of spam? If the latter and you reappear again with the same quote, I will simply ban you.

    I must add that the second comment was dumped in my spam folder, suggesting the latter.

    Please respond.

  • Patrick Underwood

    For some reason the spacesuits remind me of Voshkod 1!

    Hope that link works.

  • Kevin Jimmerson

    Great article!

    I wonder though…how much of that $55 Billion was actually spent on Space Force black projects?

  • Kevin Jimmerson: None. Download Capitalism in Space, my policy paper where I document the cost. This is what the total cost will be for SLS and Orion once the first manned mission finally launches in 2024 (if then), as determined by actual Congressional appropriations.

    The military space budget is quite separate from NASA. It is also quite large, but they are kept separate.

  • Patrick Underwood: Those might have been what the cosmonauts wore on Voskhod 1, but they were not flight suits. In order to give Khrushchev the stunt he wanted, a capsule carrying three cosmonauts, they had to eliminate use of any flight suits at all to give them room for all three.

    To me, these SpaceX flight suit remind me more of the uniform they gave Superman’s father, Jor-El, in the 1960s DC comics. See

  • Patrick Underwood

    Hi Robert,

    Yep, it’s just the “hem” of the upper part of the suit that reminded me of the jackets worn by the Voshkod 1 crew.

    That was a pretty dangerous stunt, undertaken simply to upstage the US with the first multi-crew flight. No way to escape if the booster failed, and no way to survive a cabin depressurization. (I think the engineer Feoktistov was on the crew almost as a hostage!)

    That same situation killed the Soyuz 11 crew, and all cosmonauts have flown in pressure suits ever since.

    Great site, I really enjoy your posts, and the comments are usually civil. Which is rare!

  • Patrick Underwood: Feoktistov wasn’t forced to fly. He insisted on flying because he couldn’t imagine asking anyone else to take the risk on a capsule and arrangement he designed.

    And thank you for the kind words. Glad you enjoy BtB.

  • Gary Fisher

    This is what gets my heart pumping, a scene from the dream I’ve cherished since I was a kid growing up in the 1950s. To me, Space is the “Boom!” in Boomer, the generational aspiration which formed a background to almost everything we did. There will be many, no doubt (thankfully not here – not yet) who will dismiss Elon Musk’s accomplishment because he made use of the system and accepted government funds and tax breaks in exchange for creating jobs and entire new industries, as if any one of them could have done the same. But history remembers Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, not the governments which funded them; as the article shows so well, it’s not the money, it’s the visionary that counts.

  • john hare

    The Roosevelt quote does seem to have some relevance as it is the freedom to try and the freedom to fail that creates the freedom that succeeds. No idea whether the guy is a troll.

    Note that SLS has never had an in flight failure while SpaceX has. Freedom does have failures in the particular, while it creates success and prosperity in the total. Kistler, Beal, and many more failures are just stumbles in a free enterprise world. SLS, Venturestar, ALS, and many others are roadblocks to progress in a top down authoritarian world.

  • JJGroves

    The Government (WE) are flippin the bill. Excuse me if I am not too exited with any of crony capitalist, front man Muppet, Elon Musk’s taxpayer scams. None of “his” ventures have ever turned a profit and we keep throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at “him”. My family, my personal property and my livelihood = America. Not Space-X, or Biden or Trump of any of these other “F”n “A”holes that have shut down private business worldwide for no reason whatsoever other than thier self serving Globalist Marxist mas consumer motives. I AM NOT A PROGRESSIVE!!!!!!! I AM NOT SHORTSIGHTED!!!!!! I AM AN AMERICAN. NOT RUTING FOR THIS TAXPAER MONEY SCAM AT ALL!!!!!

  • Andrew_W

    JJGroves, I know it’s popular for some people working at NASA and most employed in companies in competition to SpaceX to make claims about SpaceX getting billions in subsidies, that it’s “crony capitalism” etc, but in the real world the subsidized crony capitalists are companies like ULA and Boeing who deliver little for the billions they receive.

  • Yngvar

    When entrepreneurs — free from the constraint of seeking private financing — are let loose, they can (or might) achieve magnificent things. Good luck, Elon!

  • Al Thompson (Texan Forever)

    Hi guys. … Just discovered this great site. (Thanks, Robert Zimmerman) … I’ll hit 89 years on May, 30th and hopefully will hit 90 one day. Was born during the Hoover administration and have wittnessed a lot

    It’s been a long time since working at AeroJet General Corp. on large solid boosters. Also Northrop for 10 years during which time the Soviets launched their first little “beep-beep” Sputnik orbiter. I agree with everything Bob (Zimmerman) said in this thread regarding capitalism vs socialism. Open, freewheeling, capitalism wins every time. Hope I live long enough to see the Chinese throw off the communist yoke and become friendly capitalist competitors.

    Musk seems a bit of a screwball at times, but he’s doing a good job, and that’s what counts. Anyhow, great site, and looking forward to capitalist ventures in space. … cheers

  • ShainS

    A good read [got here from a link by J.J. Sefton in his Morning Report at AoSHQ].

    I had no idea that around $55 billion of our taxpayer dollars have been spent over the past two decades on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket platform and Orion spaceship — neither of which has flown.

    Oh well, it could be worse … NASA could have had Muslim Outreach as its top priority or something.

  • Al Thompson: I am sure that you, like me (67 years old), have far less fear of the Wuhan flu than most of today’s younger generations. Life is risk, and you do great things by facing those risks. Sadly however, this virus is not one of them. To run in fear from such a relatively minor thing I find appalling.

  • ShainS: J.J. Sefton has been kindly featuring many of my posts for the past year. I find it amusing how he has named me his “intrepid science reporter.”

    As for the cost of SLS/Orion, download Capitalism in Space, my policy paper where I document the cost. (It is a free pdf.) This is what the total cost will be for SLS and Orion once the first manned mission finally launches in 2024 (if then), as determined by actual Congressional appropriations.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Al Thompson,

    Greetings from one Texan to another! Although now we’re in Colorado… you can’t take the Texas out of the boy.

    Really appreciate your attitude. Many in your generation, while justifiably proud of all your amazing accomplishments—including Apollo—have been very skeptical of Musk. He famously broke down in tears on national TV when asked about the criticism SpaceX had received from a couple of the Apollo astronauts.

    Sadly, many conservatives (and I am a conservative) also seem to have a problem with Musk, wrongly believing he’s an Obama crony bilking the taxpayers. That’s just nuts. Yep, he can be a bit of a screwball. Thomas Edison was a similar type—helped create the modern world, but once had an elephant electrocuted in front of a crowd as advertising!

    Wishing you many more Happy Birthdays!

  • Patrick Underwood

    Exactly. Feoktistov made HIMSELF the hostage!

    Can’t help but have respect and admiration for Korolev and his team. From the gulag to space. Crazy Russians.

  • Pat

    All I can say is, “it’s about time”. We’ve been waiting 10 years for this, and only now are we finally seeing a manned flight. Just to show how much things have changed, I well remember the 10 years of the 1960’s, when NASA, or more precisely NASA’s contractors (you know, those guys you all love to hate on so much, Lockheed, Boeing, North American, Grumman, McDonnell, Douglas, etc) designed and built FOUR, count ’em, four operational manned spacecraft. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo CSM and the Lunar Module.

    And what have we been waiting for this past 10 years? A vehicle that will do basically the same thing that we were doing over 50 years ago (with 3 of the 4 craft mentioned above), fly into LEO and come back down. Into the drink. (And whatever happened to that landing on dry land under rocket power, the way God and Robert Heinlein intended? No, too “risky”. Never mind that the Russians have been doing it that way since the ’60s, albeit using a parachute along with a braking rocket, “too risky”. At least the hated Boeing’s machine comes down on dry land.)

    As I see it, the problem is twofold. One, the people running NASA are not the gang who ran it back in the 1960s. Those guys had guts, and understood that “risk is our business”. Sure, it was a well calculated risk, but still a risk. Today they are so risk averse, I’m not sure they could go to the restroom without a safety clearance. And land on the Moon by 2024? I’d love nothing better than to see that, as I saw the last time they went, but I’m not holding my breath, certainly not by 2024.

    The other problem is not unique to SpaceX. But you can bet they have spent a lot of the past 10 years debugging the millions of lines of computer code that it will take to fly the thing, far more that is really necessary. Sure, computers are useful tools, but like anything else, you can overdo it. So when the day comes that the computers go belly up, what is the crew supposed to do to fly the ship? Looking at photos of where the pilots (and I use that term advisedly) sit, all I see in the way of controls are a couple of computer screens and a few buttons. I don’t even see a basic hand controller for pitch/yaw/roll. They had one at one time, but I don’t see it now. Frankly boys and girls, that scares the heck out of me. I would not want to ride in a ship without a set of backup manual controls, which unless they are well hidden, the Dragon seems to lack.

    At some point, some oddball set of conditions or circumstances will arise and the control systems will fail, and your precious Dragon will be just a falling bucket, and you will lose a crew. If you doubt this, ask Airbus about how this can happen. Or Boeing, whose 737 MAX is STILL grounded after all these months with a computer problem, on a machine that one would think would be inherently stable, and not even NEED a computer to safely fly the bloody thing. Automation for automation’s sake is never wise.

    Even so, I’m sure they will fly a successful mission, proving that, yeah, even the United States can still fly humans into space. It’s about time…

  • Star Bird

    Ah yes outer Space the Final Fronteer travel the Stars lets go to Alpha Centari and else here and lets maroon liberals on some planet where they can start their own liberal colony of libera screwballs call their planet Snowflake World and find the Jupiter 2

  • Andi

    “and find the Jupiter 2”

    … and the last transmission received from that planet: “Danger Will Robinson!”

  • sippin_bourbon

    “All I can say is, “it’s about time”.”

    YES! This! A thousand times over.


    I like your covered wagons analogy, but want to take it step further. I think where we have been is covered wagons.

    Starship, to me, reaches a “Transcontinental Railroad” feel. Its when we really start to move people and hardware.

    My humble opinion only.

  • Derek Duncan

    Jeez, Robert- if you can’t see what the Roosevelt quote has to do with Elon Musk and his first manned launch, that’s kind of sad. As far as your inbox and spam issues go, try to relax, eh?

  • Derek Duncan: You obviously do not run a website. Spam is a big problem. I try to keep the comments section clean from it so that legitimate conversations can go on.

    When I get an email with just a quote, and get it twice with one labeled as spam, and both from the same ip but with different email addresses and names, this raises a red flag. Many of the worst comment spammers do similar things.

    It is therefore reasonable to ask you this, and reasonable to expect a civil response. Why couldn’t you simply do that?

  • Pat

    Bob, I scanned through that “Capitalism in Space” doc of yours (didn’t have time to read it all; it’s 42 pages of fine print, fer cryin’ out loud). But at least you FINALLY hit on the root problem here. The FARs. For all the whining about SLS, Orion, etc that goes on around here, the FARs are the main reason the thing is so expensive. You can bet if the SLS contractors got as sweet a deal with the government as Musk got (along with a few billion in the bank that they probably don’t have for development costs) SLS would be at least somewhat cheaper. Remember what they are trying to do here, build a Saturn V class launch vehicle. I don’t care who is doing it, that is going to cost some serious coin.

    Have much more to say about this, but not now.

  • Richard M

    I hate to quibble with an essay so firmly pointed in the right direction, but here goes:

    For a half century the American space effort became a miniature Soviet Union, ruled from above by NASA with no freedom given to anyone in the aerospace industry to compete. NASA planned, controlled, and dictated everything. Private companies could only follow, like dogs on a leash.

    But doesn’t this describe Apollo also, to a tee?

    In fact, Apollo (and Gemini) was a firmly *state* enterprise. A state agency funded all the vehicles and infrastructure; it defined all of its objectives; it designed them; it operated them; it crewed them. Private companies (thousands of them) participated, to be sure, but only under the strict and close control of NASA engineers and managers.

    Which makes Apollo something of an irony: A massive state undertaking intended to win a Cold War triumph on behalf of a free western society. And it was *necessarily* a state enterprise, because there really was no Elon Musk or even Jeff Bezos on hand to undertake such a thing and accomplish it on such a tight deadline. Only the United States government had the resources ($200 plus billion) to do it.

    But I think we can all recognize therefore that, irony or not, such a model was necessary to achieve the objective (and I think it was a worthy objective) of beating the Soviets to the Moon, given the circumstances of 1961-69. The problem was, the model was so successful in that mission that it marked the path that the United States insisted on for all of its space efforts after Apollo, even when more and more of those efforts simply did not require it in the way the Moon Race did, and increasingly *hindered* those efforts. What we got was what Rand Simberg has colorfully called the Apollo Cargo Cult.

    Well, tomorrow, if all goes well, that cult will take another long step toward its overdue demise.

  • Richard M


    None of “his” ventures have ever turned a profit and we keep throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at “him”.

    SpaceX executives, from Musk and Gwynne Shotwell on down, have insisted that, for at least the last four years, SpaceX has been consistently profitable. SpaceX might be a closely held corporation, but even if we can’t see its books, NASA, the Air Force, and its backing venture capital funds have access to them. If Shotwell et al were lying, they would know, and they would vote with their feet: no more contracts, no more venture capital.

    And the contracts are almost all transactions for *services*. NASA wants to send a deep space probe to Psyche, so it buys a launch from SpaceX, which only gets full payment when the probe is successfully launched. The Air Force wants to launch a reconnaisance satellite, so it buys a launch from SpaceX, which gets full payment when it delivers the sat to orbit. The federal government does this all the time, in other agencies, when it needs a service or a product. That’s what those billions are buying from SpaceX. If you want to see federal crony capitalism in action, you would be better off looking at Boeing, LockMart, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and (much as I love Tory Bruno) ULA.

  • pzatchok

    I would love to know what Musk and or his companies ever got from the government for free.

    Everyone talks about it but never drops the proof. I guess haters gotta hate.

    And PAT.

    How could 35 BILLION already spent, be cheaper or more cost effective?
    And no they are not building a Saturn V class vessel. They were supposed to be re-using all the old tech and parts off of the space shuttle to save money and time. Estimated time and cost was 5 years and 5 billion at most. It cost more than that to rebuild the prime mover, launch pad and assembly building.Each.

  • Edward

    JJGroves wrote: “The Government (WE) are flippin the bill. Excuse me if I am not too exited with any of crony capitalist, front man Muppet, Elon Musk’s taxpayer scams.

    Note how commercial manned transportation is a Musk scam, not a SpaceX or Boeing scam. Someone’s bias is showing through.

    Pat wrote to Robert: “you FINALLY hit on the root problem here. The FARs.”

    This is one of the big problems. That is why NASA’s commercial space projects moved away from FARs.

    Richard M asked: “But doesn’t this describe Apollo also, to a tee?

    Robert has made this same point before. Not only Apollo, but most NASA projects since, too. Commercial Resupply Services, Commercial Crew Program, and Commercial Lunar Payload Services are correcting this irony. Additional areas where space is being commercialized are Earth observation and weather data collection. If Bigelow or other companies are successful, then space stations should also become commercialized in the next decade.

  • Patrick Underwood


    Good point on FARs. As I understand it (and I probably don’t), most govt aerospace contracting is done under “non-commercial” rules, which require the contractor to employ an army of analysts, accountants, and lawyers to (and this is the hilarious part) ensure the taxpayers’ money is being spent the most efficiently. Yep. Got to laugh to keep from crying.

    I asked a friend about it, and he sent me this:

    In US govt parlance the deal would be under FAR 12 terms and conditions for a commercial deal and probably FAR 15 terms and conditions for a non-commercial deal. When we try to prove commerciality to a government customer so that we get a FAR 12 deal, we show that items/services have been offered for sale or sold to a commercial entity per the definitions in FAR 2.

    Here are some links.

  • Edward

    Patrick Underwood,

    For the commercial cargo and commercial manned launch contracts, NASA moved away from the FAR requisition methods and uses the Space Act Agreement for these contracts:
    Page 13 of Robert’s Capitalism in Space policy paper:

    To speed the cargo program and reduce its cost, NASA instead chose to use Space Act Agreements (SAAs), a much simpler and more streamlined contracting system.

    There may be other contracts under SAA, and NASA also “partners” with companies for some things that the companies are doing.

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