Nov 23, 2020
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket brought four astronauts to the International Space Station on November 15. Both Biden and Trump praised this “American success” after nine years, during which the only such space taxis were Russia’s Soyuz rockets.
When NASA stopped using its space shuttles in 2011 after a tragic accident, the agency started a public‑private partnership agreement with SpaceX’s boss Elon Musk to supply the space station. Musk took full advantage of the facilities NASA had built up as a public agency, as well as the skills its engineers and technicians had acquired. And Musk enjoyed his new guaranteed contracts at top dollar which let him develop his new, reusable rocket under NASA’s wing.
In the 1950s the U.S. was faced both with the USSR’s advances in space flight and with private aerospace companies’ inability to pool their know‑how in order to plan programs as complex and expensive as visiting the moon. So the U.S. asserted control over them. The task required political and financial intervention by the government. Still, private entrepreneurs made huge profits and justified them by saying they were taking costly risks, even while NASA ensured them a secure and lucrative market. The whole history of capitalism is filled with similar situations.
Now that travel into near space is well established, NASA is handing it back to private industry. It subcontracts space missions to companies like SpaceX and Boeing, which makes the Starliner capsule. Amazon’s boss Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin. All these companies are making preparations to sell jaunts into orbit to wealthy tourists looking for thrills, and to launch and operate thousands of commercial communications satellites. Thrown into space without coordination, and even competing with each other, these satellites will repeat each other’s work. After ravaging land and sea, capitalism is well on its way to polluting space.