This month four astronauts arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) thanks to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It was a milestone for both NASA and SpaceX as the Crew Dragon’s first fully operational mission, and marks its second crewed flight. The U.S. government and private agencies have been working together for about a decade to get more people into space.
This recent accomplishment also makes us think about what’s in store for the future of private space travel for the ISS and beyond. Astronomy contributor Jean Creighton says that while the SpaceX mission may seem shiny and new, it’s just the latest in private companies working with the government.
"People imagine that this is a brand-new thing and maybe a departure from what NASA used to do, but the Apollo missions required NASA to subcontract with 20,000 companies in order to make all the various part that they required," she notes. "So this is definitely a continuation of a tradition that's been established for 60 years now, if not 70."
Private companies are now more interested in space travel largely in part because it's becoming cheaper, according to Creighton. From having the technology to rescue and reuse materials that are easier to manufacture to having better computers to run the technology, she expects more partnerships to continue into the future.
"I don't think that deep space is going to be taken up by private companies ... [but] all these partnerships, these successful missions build confidence that the current partnerships that NASA has with private companies might be as fruitful as prior ones," says Creighton.