Jun 15, 2020
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
On May 31 two NASA astronauts entered the International Space Station 250 miles from Earth after 19 hours of space travel. Coming half a century after people first walked on the Moon, this event was banal. But the media presented it as a major accomplishment.
There are two reasons. The Crew Dragon space capsule was launched into orbit by a reusable Falcon 9 rocket made by billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. Also, after the Space Shuttle program ended nine years ago, this was the first time an American rocket carried astronauts again. Trump attended the takeoff and raved about the powerful technology before promising that Americans would soon set foot on Mars. Remember that Russia currently launches most of the women and men who work on the International Space Station. Russia was the first country to launch a person into orbit back in the time of the Soviet Union. So Russian engineers had a good laugh at Trump and his bragging.
As for SpaceX’s rocket, it is recoverable and therefore reusable, unlike those of Russian, Chinese, and European competitors. This is its main innovation. It also can carry much heavier loads. But, contrary to what Elon Musk’s starry-eyed admirers claim, this advance owes nothing to his personal talents or to the institution of private property. Elon Musk became rich by financial speculation in the early 2000s. He cultivates the image of a visionary held back by regulations, government inertia, and even lack of daring on the part of his board of directors. But SpaceX owes all its success to NASA, a public institution. SpaceX only avoided bankruptcy in 2008 by signing a lucrative contract with NASA to supply the International Space Station. Musk has consistently taken advantage of NASA and U.S. military facilities and experience for his launches while charging them high prices, even as he offered discounts to commercial customers.
Throughout the history of capitalism, from the building of the railways in the 19th century to space travel in the 20th century, private capitalists would have made no significant progress or investment without constant help from governments. Today, investments and scientific programs for the future of humanity are made at the discretion of megalomaniac capitalists like Elon Musk—or Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, whose company Blue Origin markets space tourism to wealthy people. This shows how senile the social system is.