- - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ask any baby boomer and there are two dates they will remember and can tell you where they were when the news hit. The first is Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The other is July 20, 1969, when Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.

Every July 20 is now a celebration of what was once the greatness of America. In 1972, Americans stepped on the moon for the last time and no one has been back since. In 2010, under Barack Obama, the Space Shuttle program was grounded and America became the first space faring nation to lose the ability to put its people in space. Along with the grounding of the Space Shuttle, Obama cancelled the Orion spacecraft, the Ares rockets and the Constellation program, designed to put Americans back on the moon.

While Barack Obama was busy scuttling the space program and telling former Astronaut Charles Bolden that he wanted NASA to spend its time reaching out to Muslim nations to make them “feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering;” something interesting happened.

The free market stepped into the void. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have built and are now flying rockets that send satellites into orbit and are planning manned spaceflights in the next few years. Musk is not the only entrepreneur working in the space arena. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin is as well.

But no one is as controversial as Musk. Conservatives deride him, claiming much of his success is due to cronyism, not being a superior businessman. And SpaceX is not without controversy.

In June 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad, destroying supplies meant for the International Space Station. Despite the failure, SpaceX was paid almost all of its launch fee by the government. And what may be even more disturbing is that despite investigating the failure, NASA will not release a public report on why a rocket failure destroyed a $110 million dollar government cargo.

In October 2014, an Antares rocket exploded, destroying another government cargo. A mishap board was convened and a report was issued. After the Falcon 9 explosion, a mishap board, made up of ten company employees and a single employee from the FAA, reviewed the accident. Unlike the Antares explosion, where a detailed report was released, in the case of the Falcon 9, only a summary was released. Interestingly enough, the only people who signed off on the summary were the ten SpaceX employees. For reasons that have still not been explained, the FAA employee did not sign off of the report.

For Americans, this is not simply a concern about money or even influence. Lives are at stake.

In September 2016, another Falcon 9 blew up, this time destroying a $205 million satellite. On Nov. 4, 2017, a SpaceX engine blew up at a company test facility in Texas. This explosion is much more serious, because while no lives were lost, this engine is the type SpaceX wants to use on its Falcon 9 rockets to send manned missions into space.

The competition in space is the best thing for space travel since the Apollo program. It will get Americans back into space, sooner rather than later and it may well put Americans back on the moon before anyone else gets there.

While the privatization of space flight is good, we need transparency. This is especially true when the American taxpayer is footing the bill for much of the company’s efforts.

More importantly, American lives will be at risk.

Americans can see in to space. Americans should be able to see into SpaceX as well.

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