Private Companies in Space

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The Falcon Heavy rocket just performed a successful launch and landing of a payload into space.  It contained a Tesla roadster, pictured above, and a dummy astronaut. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has been successfully launching its Falcon series of rockets since 2010.  You may be thinking to yourself, “eh what a big deal; it’s just another rocket. We sent people to space in the 60s, so it’s nothing special.” But you would be wrong. SpaceX is a completely private company.  It takes no money from the government; it is completely funded off of Elon Musk’s seemingly bottomless pocket. SpaceX is not the only private company participating in space tech. Boeing, Orbital Sciences, and Virgin Galactic are among the most successful companies along with SpaceX.  This poses a new question: Should private companies be able to operate in space?

When Elon Musk launched his Tesla into space, he was called reckless by many experts.  Governments have been able to do a fair job of keeping space objects sterile and free from bacteria.  Bacteria aboard an object could be potentially catastrophic because if it were to touch down on a planet, such as Mars, it would contaminate the surface of the planet.  If the planet was contaminated by Earth bacteria, scientists would never be able to discern between life brought to Mars and life originating on Mars.

In a scenario where the object contaminated with Earth bacteria made contact with a planet with other living organisms, the results could be disastrous.  It could be similar to what happened to Native Americans when European settlers arrived. The Native Americans were exposed to bacteria and viruses that their bodies had never experienced before, so there was no way to combat this.  If the Earth bacteria come in contact with any form of life, it has the potential to wipe it out, and leave no trace for our scientists to study.

With the potential for effects like this, we need to be aware of the influence of private companies on future research.  SpaceX has the advantage of being able to make decisions on its own, and is only limited by its funding. It does not have to worry about sharing a budget with different departments like NASA does.  However, we need to be mindful of the real impacts of Musk’s decisions to send a car into space just because of the publicity it affords Tesla.

Here’s my proposal to this problem.  I think that private companies being able to participate in space travel is going to further our knowledge of our surroundings in the solar system and the universe, but they need to be controlled.  I would suggest a new branch of the government, specifically designed to regulate private space travel in the United States. Similar to the DMV, this branch of the government would inspect new projects, like a new car model, in order to evaluate their safety and viability.  They would have to pass certain tests in order to protect what we have not yet researched. Hopefully we can work together to save the solar system from the pollution that has scarred our planet by keeping the vaulting ambitions of Silicon Valley billionaires in check.

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