Space X made history Monday night by doing the unthinkable: it recovered its Falcon 9 rocket and got it to land on a target perfectly upright. This whole incredible thing was like watching a rocket take off, but in reverse. I couldn’t have been any more excited.
As the rocket successfully reverse-landed, the cameras panned back to company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where hundreds of employees cheered and jumped up and down. In my own living room, I joined them by both cheering and screaming.
I’m Nuts About Rockets
I LOVE ROCKETS. I’m a sport rocketress and a member of the National Association of Rocketry. My dad is certified to fly high-powered rockets and has mentored several teams competing in the Team America Rocket Challenge, in which my siblings also competed. My sixth birthday party was rocket-themed, and my best yet. As a rocket freak, I can’t tell you how excited I was about the Falcon 9’s launch and flawless recovery.
As a young girl, I spent countless weekends running after my recoverable model rockets as they fell back to earth with the aid of a parachute. I would often imagine myself running along the moon’s surface and pretend that the dry, cracked soil of the California desert was part of my imaginary lunar landscape.
My obsession was well documented. Here are some photos of me with rockets as a kid:
It’s thrilling that we’re now capable of reverse-landing the first stage of a rocket and reusing it if we want. The cost-saving implications for this alone are astronomical and could reduce many of the financial hurdles currently barring missions to far-flung corners of the galaxy. A trip to Mars has never been closer. What an amazing time to be alive.
The Falcon 9 Isn’t The Capitalist Success Story It May Appear
However, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted. The truth is, I liked having a nationalized space program. Sue me. And I’m still bitter that we ended our space shuttle program.
Some have tried to convince me that this is still a win for America because capitalism has made it possible for a corporation to accomplish a feat so gigantic, but I disagree. They would be right if Space X weren’t so heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds — at least $5.5 billion in federal grants from NASA and the U.S. Air Force according to the Los Angeles Times — not to mention numerous tax incentives, which total more than $20 million.
Space X’s CEO, Elon Musk, is a pretty shady dude who preys on taxpayers by pressing on progressive lawmakers’ soft spot for renewable energy. I hate that Space X is our great hope at getting to Mars, and I hate that our space program is dependent upon Musk — whose corporate portfolio is propped up by government subsidies and tax breaks. His other companies, namely SolarCity and Tesla, have a reputation of sucking the marrow from taxpayers in the form of mandates, rebates, and tax breaks.
New York taxpayers funded SolarCity’s $750 million dollar manufacturing plant in the hope it would get a return on investment in the form of tax revenue. But a lot of the details of the agreement between the state and the company are being kept secret from the public.
SolarCity is also well known for ripping people off. A former colleague of mine, Tori Richards, exposed a lot of the company’s questionable behavior in a series for Watchdog.org, including their habit of quietly slapping their customers’ property with liens. The company has hemorrhaged money. It lost $55 million in 2013 due, in part, to the government’s decision to put tariffs on solar panels imported from China, a product SolarCity was importing en masse at the cost of endangering the American solar industry.
Musk’s car company, Tesla, is the recipient of numerous government handouts and has hugely (and arguably unfairly) benefitted from California’s carbon tax credit. In 2013, taxpayers subsidized an estimated 20 percent of each Tesla vehicle’s sticker price, according to The Week, yet the company is still losing $4,000 on each car.
Musk exhibits a clear pattern of cronyist behavior. He gets an idea then gets taxpayers to fund a significant portion of it for him. He loses a ton of money yet is somehow lauded as a capitalist genius. Without New York taxpayers, SolarCity may not be around today, and without the Department of Energy there may be no Tesla either.
Get Out There And Fly
So what’s a rocketress like me to do? How are we supposed to be happy about the accomplishments of “private” industry when it’s soaking up tax dollars like a piece of bread in a mop bucket?
Don’t despair. Let’s celebrate the Falcon 9’s successful retrieval while hoping for a better alternative. We ought to get busy instilling a sense of wonder into the next generation. Let’s get kids excited about space in the hope that they will yearn to revolutionize the industry.
Grab your kids, grandkids, siblings, nieces, and nephews, and watch Space X’s history-making launch. Build and launch rockets together. To get started, you can find easy to assemble kits here, or even buy a pre-made one here. For the intense flyer, you can launch competitively through NAR’s Team America Rocket Challenge.
We should encourage kids to study math, science, and engineering, and we should fan the flames of an entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s prepare and encourage new innovators to take us to Mars in the future without taxpayer-funded assistance. As we move forward, we should praise true capitalism, because it fosters innovation like this without using the force of government to pick space winners and losers (which it does badly and so reduces the pace and quality of innovation). To quote from John F. Kennedy, we should pursue trekking into the great unknown “with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”