In the midst of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union vied for space supremacy as a matter of national might: At the time, sending a vessel or humans beyond the stratosphere was a matter of security and patriotism. It was surely not a matter devised, funded, and engineered by the private sector.
That’s all changed today. Russia’s beleaguered space program is looking to Elon Musk’s SpaceX for both scientific and economic inspiration. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told a Russian TV news network Wednesday that his country needs to make spaceflight cheaper and in effect, borrow ideas from the South African tech-industry titan:
“Competitors are stepping on our toes. Look at what billionaire Musk is doing with his projects. This is very interesting, well done, and we treat this work with respect.”
This means two things. Russia’s leaders are willing to take aerospace cues from an overtly American and capitalist enterprise. And the very notion of a “space race” as something exacted by sovereign states is kaput.
After all, Rogozin is smart to look to Musk as a precedent-setting sage. SpaceX made waves for much of this year, cementing lucrative NASA contracts and vertically landing an enormous rocket ship after blasting off into orbital space. The company will also send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017.