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Franklin Chang Díaz, a member of the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, participated in seven space shuttle missions, tying the record for the most space flights. In 2005 he founded the Ad Astra Rocket Company, in Webster, just southeast of Houston, which is developing a plasma engine suitable for space propulsion.

in the seventies And the 2020s, the big shift is from confrontation to collaboration. The 1970s were essentially a race between two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, with other countries just watching. So that competition died down and gave way [for many years] to collaboration. The whole world has gotten involved, because satellite technology is big business; now space is a place to make money.

The commercialization of space made sense. Every time NASA launched the space shuttle, it cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In the 2000s, NASA said, “Well, we know how to put humans into orbit. So now is the time for the private sector to really do this cheaply and much more efficiently.”

Here in the US, private companies started working on that part of NASA that was comfortable in low-Earth orbit. The International Space Station is spawning other space stations, such as Axiom Space, Bigelow and Sierra Space, and Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef. Space stations will be numerous and will have their own business models.

We also have private companies whose vehicles allow humans to travel to space much more cheaply: SpaceX with Dragon, Blue Origin with New Shepard, Boeing with Starliner. Astronauts are now a dime a dozen! You have a lot of money, you go buy a seat, they launch you, you go a hundred kilometers in space, you spend five minutes and then you go down. As we’ve seen with air travel, what used to be exclusive becomes more available to the rest of us.

NASA needs to be in the exploratory environment, where you spend your money finding new routes and new resources, exploring other planets and pushing the limits. Private financing is not for that. Private funding is to create the things that come after NASA.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthlywith the headline “ Privatization: the last frontier”.subscribe today.