Last night I came across one of those awesome, breaking news stories from Gizmodo on Twitter in which they rocked the world with a shocking discovery about SpaceX boss Elon Musk. Did you know that he not only donated money to a GOP congressional PAC but that he did it because (make sure you’re sitting down for this) … it would benefit him to do so?
Needless to say, I was rather unimpressed.
You've busted this one wide open. It's going to be bigger than Teapot Dome. https://t.co/PMZPcTkUzo
— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) July 15, 2018
Shame on Musk for not donating in a way that would benefit his competitors, right? But even putting aside all of the deserved sarcasm and snark, Musk’s efforts are part of a larger story which we haven’t paid as much attention to during the Summer of Trump’s Foreign Adventures. That would be the President’s focus this year on advancing human space exploration.
President Trump held a meeting a little over a month ago where he met with people in the aerospace industry and not only provided his personal support for such technology but focused on the need for private development to combat skyrocketing costs (pun intended) in the normal NASA subcontracting community. One area worthy of attention was the President’s mention of the ULA (a Lockheed-Boeing joint venture). They get a lot of work from the government and they definitely deliver on some big projects, but the price tag tends to get out of control quickly.
Here are a couple of Trump’s comments from the meeting on that subject.
TRUMP: “I don’t like when Boeing and Lockheed get together because the pricing only goes up… We’re going to have to talk about that, your joining those two companies… I don’t like that stuff, Mike.
What do you think of that [Lockheed-Boeing] merger for the space — what do you think? Look at them; they’re sitting together… No wonder we don’t get the pricing we want. Huh?
He didn’t spend all of his time bashing ULA without offering an alternative. And that’s where people like Musk come in. The President probably raised some hackles with his wording (what else is new?) but he makes a valid point. We shouldn’t object to some rich Americans getting richer if they’re putting us on the moon and Mars sooner and for less money.
TRUMP: “So all of those rich guys that are dying for our real estate to launch their rockets, we won’t charge you too much. Just go ahead. If you beat us to Mars, we’ll be very happy and you’ll be even more famous… as long as it’s an American rich person, that’s good…
I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry. We are modernizing out-of-date space regulations… I will sign a new directive to federal departments and agencies. They will work together with American industry to implement a state-of-the-art framework for space traffic management. But don’t let it get too out of control, please. We know about what’s going on with a lot of other rules and regulations.”
Yes, Musk is one of those “American rich people” who already looks like a good bet to beat NASA to Mars and do it for a fraction of the cost. Or maybe he won’t. But at least he’s giving it a try. And if that means we cut him a good deal for using NASA launch facilities (rather than having to build entire space launch centers from scratch) that’s no skin off the taxpayer’s nose if nobody else is using them at the time anyway.
As to who Musk donates to or says nice things about, I don’t lose any sleep over it. He’s previously posted comments sympathetic to progressive causes and ticked off all the conservatives. Now he’s donating to the party that’s going to make it easier for him to try to get humanity off this rock before we go extinct. Musk is a businessman and he’s in the business of dreaming big dreams. So go ahead and expose him for making a GOP donation or buying a fleet of planes for Nancy Pelosi. I could care less. I just want SpaceX to succeed.