SpaceX and NASA, sitting in a tree

Today SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft made history by being the first commercially built vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. So, yay for commercial spaceflight! I’ve always said I’m going to spend my first million dollars (HA!) on a ticket to the moon. But as I argue in an article published by GOOD yesterday, the grand-triumph-of-capitalism narrative that’s being repeated ad naseum isn’t the whole story.

In reality, Dragon’s mission is not a libertarian adventure. Rather, it is the result of a deeply collaborative effort between SpaceX and NASA that could change the way we go to space, just like past public-private partnerships that gave us railroads and commercial air travel.

Dragon makes its way toward the International Space Station. It successfully docked this morning. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

Not only does SpaceX need NASA to lend it some of its hard-won legitimacy, it also needs the agency’s money to get its still risky business off the ground (pun intended). And NASA needs SpaceX, too. If the space agency is really going to send people to Mars and beyond in the next few decades, it needs to start outsourcing routine trips to low Earth orbit and dedicate its increasingly limited resources toward exploratory missions ASAP.

Finally, a fun/sad fact I learned while reporting this story: it will take the astronauts on the space station TWENTY-FIVE HOURS to unpack the cargo Dragon is delivering. Truly every kid’s dream job!